Why the Trans Fat Ban is a Big Fat Deal


Ahh, summer—a time to head to the neighborhood pool, go on a family vacation, or make your way to the movies and watch Hollywood’s latest formulaic epic while you shovel down mountains of popcorn covered in trans fats (well, hopefully not that last part). As our nutritional understanding of fat continues to shift, and opinions and facts seem to vary about how much and what type of this calorie-dense nutrient we need, at least one thing has become glaringly apparent—trans fats are the bad fats! While consumption of this once ubiquitous mainstay of processed food recipes is on the decline, the FDA just delivered the coup de mains, giving three years for the food industry to phase out partially hydrogenated oils from our food supply. Good bye, trans fats!

Big Fat Deal #1: Science Prevails and Consumer Pressure Worked

There are numerous studies linking trans fats to cardiovascular disease and declines in health, and the Obama administration took a huge step towards this ban back in 2013 when the FDA disallowed the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) designation for trans fats. Prior to this, the FDA ruled that trans fats be noted on nutrition facts back in 2006. During that same year, Michael Bloomberg levied the first state-wide ban on trans fats and two years later California followed suit. In fact, it has been a 20+ year road to this public health victory. Check out Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) Trans Fat History Timeline for more details. This ban is a great example of how government-backed science, political concern about the health of our nation, and consumer advocacy can bring about positive change for our nation’s wellness.

Big Fat Deal #2: Lives Saved

The general consensus about this ban is that it will save lives. An often cited Center for Disease Control study estimates that avoiding trans fats can help prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from coronary heart disease. Roberto Ferdman of the Washington Post quotes Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director of CSPI:

It's probably the single most important change in our food supply, if not in decades, then ever. This action alone will save many thousands of lives each year."

Even though there are naysayers taking their fear-of-a-”nanny-state” to the ban, many people argue that New York’s 2006 ban showed us that banning trans-fats won’t be hard on restaurants or sacrifice the taste of processed food. CSPI quoted Mayor Bloomberg:

Like most public health measures, at first the phasing out of artificial trans fats was controversial, but as soon as New Yorkers understood that taking trans fats out of a dish didn't impact the way their favorite foods tasted, and restaurant owners understood that the ban didn't hurt business, the measure was widely accepted. In fact, the trans fat ban became a point of pride for many restaurants.

As our national weight average continues to rise, this ban offers a low cost (in terms of replacements and in terms of taste) way to prevent diet related diseases.

Big Fat Deal #3: Holding Food Companies Accountable

Trans fats makers have already seen an 85 percent reduction in their usage since awareness of their negative health impacts spread. While a lot of this reduction can be attributed to FDA regulations mentioned above, the food industry itself has taken positive steps on their own accord. That being said, this ban takes a very clear legal stand against any food companies that are not following the rules on trans fats. Helen Bottemiller Evich of Politico explains that lawsuits against food companies are expected to rise. Bottemiller-Evich spoke with Michael Reese at the consumer safety conscious law firm Reese LLP:

Reese, who has already sued a handful of food companies, including Wendy’s and Unilever over their use of trans fat, said the plaintiffs’ bar may first target products containing the ingredient if they have the aura of being healthy or are marketed to children. He contends that food companies have known for decades that partially hydrogenated oils are linked to cardiovascular disease and there’s “really no excuse” for keeping them in food products when alternatives exist.”

While this ban offers legal underpinnings to go after food companies who are not in compliance, we are not completely out of the woods yet. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (the lobbying group for around 300 Big Food companies) is currently lobbying the FDA to allow small amounts of trans fats in food items. Despite this last ditch effort, we can see this ban as a huge step forward in the health of our processed food and a way to make junk-food just a little less “junky.”

This ban has been a long time coming and it is an important step forward for our nation’s health.

Image via Flickr


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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