HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, August 12, 2005

News on the Heart Disease Front

The New York City health department is taking a new stand against heart disease. The New York Times reports that the city health department has encouraged all city restaurants to stop serving food containing trans fats.  The story states,

The request, the first of its kind by any large American city, is the latest salvo in the battle against trans fats, components of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which three decades ago were promoted as a healthy alternative to saturated fats like butter.

Today, most scientists and nutrition experts agree that trans fat is America's most dangerous fat and recommend the use of alternatives like olive and sunflower oils.

"To help combat heart disease, the No. 1 killer in New York City, we are asking restaurants to voluntarily make an oil change and remove artificial trans fat from their kitchens," said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city's health commissioner, who compared trans fats to asbestos and lead as public health threats. "We are also urging food suppliers to provide products that are trans-fat free."

It is far from clear how many restaurants will heed the call of Dr. Frieden, one of the city's most activist public health commissioners in a generation.

A survey by the department's food inspectors found that from 30 to 60 percent of the city's 20,000 restaurants use partially hydrogenated oil in food preparation, meaning that thousands of cooks and chefs might need to change their cooking and purchasing habits to meet the request. Trans fats are particularly prominent in baked goods, frying oils, and breading, and can be hard to replace without raising costs or changing the taste of familiar foods like cookies and French fries.

While the health department will not seek to ban the ingredient outright, it has begun an educational campaign among restaurateurs, their suppliers and the public denouncing trans fats. In a letter sent to all food suppliers in the city last week, Dr. Frieden wrote: "Consumers want healthier choices when eating out. Our campaign will increase consumer demand for meals without trans fat."

Should be interesting to see how this works out - trans fat will be very hard to eliminate - it seems to be in everything that I buy at the grocery store.  However, I think this is a good first step to cause people to think about their cooking and eating habits.  Who knows - some of  these famouse chefs might come up with foods that taste good without trans fats.  [bm]

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