New Yorkers Want Statewide Phase-out of Artificial Trans Fat

New York City, and Albany, Nassau, and Westchester Counties Have Already Acted

April 24, 2008

WASHINGTON—More than seven in 10 New York State residents want to get artificial trans fat out of restaurant food, according to a new poll released today, and now legislators are eyeing a statewide phase-out of the artificial ingredient that is a potent cause of heart disease.

Getting rid of artificial trans fat means getting rid of partially hydrogenated oil, which is the only source of artificial trans fat. New York City, and Albany, Nassau, and Westchester counties have already acted to require restaurants to gradually phase out their use of the controversial substance. And now, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D) and Senator Kemp Hannon (R) each have proposed legislation that would require all restaurants in New York that still use it to switch to healthier, natural fats and oils.

Seventy-three percent of New Yorkers statewide are concerned about the presence of artificial trans fat in restaurant food and 71 percent support phasing it out. 84 percent of New Yorkers support the idea of requiring any restaurants that still use artificial trans fat to disclose that to customers on menus and menu boards. The poll, commissioned by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, was conducted by Zogby International earlier this month. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percent.

"Half the state's population is on the verge of being protected from artificial trans fat in restaurant food, thanks to New York City and the three counties," said CSPI health promotion policy director Julie Greenstein. "It's hard to think of a less expensive or easier way of saving so many lives and so many health care dollars. No one will miss partially hydrogenated oils when they’re gone for good."

"Consumers are flooded with these unhealthy, chemically-modified ingredients every day," said Assemblyman Ortiz. "A statewide initiative eliminating trans fat in restaurants is a positive step toward decreasing obesity rates and improving the health of New York State citizens. Currently New York taxpayers spend more than $3 billion in Medicaid treating conditions associated with obesity, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. We must take immediate action to change this trend."

Artificial trans fat is more dangerous on a gram-for-gram basis than any other fat in food because, like saturated fat, it raises one's LDL, the "bad" kind of cholesterol that promotes heart disease. But unlike saturated fat, it also lowers one's HDL, the "good" kind of cholesterol that guards against heart disease. Most processors of packaged foods have replaced partially hydrogenated oils with healthier fats, making the reformulated products not only free of trans fat, but also lower in saturated fat. Restaurant chains that used to use partially hydrogenated oil for deep-frying have found that they can very easily switch to canola, soybean, corn, or other heart-healthy vegetable oils.

"Recent studies have actually shown a decline in life expectancy for many Americans," said Senator Hannon. "Considering that we eat away from home more than ever and the demonstrated link between trans fat and cardiovascular disease, the time for this legislation has arrived."

Despite the medical evidence linking artificial trans fat with heart disease and other health problems, some chains are only using heart-healthy oils where required to. That might mean that French fries and other fried foods from Burger King will have much more trans fat in Poughkeepsie or Schenectady than they do in Queens or White Plains.

"For restaurants, the transition away from artificial trans fat has been surprisingly seamless in New York City," said Laura Stanley, who should know. She runs the city's Trans Fat Help Center, which has helped bakeries and restaurants abandon partially hydrogenated oils. "And we've seen many bakeries make a successful transition, too, well ahead of the July 1, 2008 deadline."


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