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Adam Thompson on July 31, 2008 - 10:10am
With Governor Schwarzenegger's approval of AB 97, California became the first state to ban the use of trans fats in food preparation at restaurants and bakeries, achieving a key public health goal. Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, are used in numerous prepared and packaged foods like French fries, margarines, crackers, and doughnuts. Trans fats significantly increase consumers' risk of heart disease by spiking so-called bad cholesterol and decreasing good cholesterol. Several cities, including New York City, preceded California with their own bans, but the California action will increase the likelihood that other states will follow suit. Under the California law, restaurants must discontinue their use of trans fats by 2010 and bakeries must comply by 2011; fines will range from $25 to $1,000. Packaged foods are exempt.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, eliminating trans fats from the US food supply would prevent 6% to 19% of heart attacks and related deaths each year. The public strongly supports this public health measure. A 2008 Zogby poll found that more than 7 of 10 New York voters want a statewide ban on partially hydrogenated oils, which are the only source of trans-fats. Partially hydrogenated oils are popular in food preparation because they help preserve taste and shelf-life. However, there are ample alternatives available, like canola oil; and, the transition to healthier oils is already occurring with little difficulty in New York City, where over 10,000 restaurants have made the switch, and in other cities like Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Many fast food chains, including McDonald's, Wendy's, and KFC, have already begun eliminating trans fats from their foods, either voluntarily or because of lawsuits by consumer groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
As we have written previously, eliminating trans fats has broader implications for eliminating health disparities. Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have higher rates of obesity and higher rates of death due to diabetes and heart disease. These and other health disparities are exacerbated by the lack of access to healthy food choices in low-income communities, where fast food options and packaged foods - and therefore trans fats - proliferate. This led the Los Angeles City Council to approve a one-year moratorium on new fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles, in a bid to attract restaurants that serve healthier food.