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Restaurants' trans fat bans may have positive health effects

Reductions in restaurants’ use of trans fats may have played a role in declining levels of the fats in the blood of white American adults between 2000 and 2009, a Centers for Disease Control study found Wednesday.

The level of trans fats in those who participated in the study fell 58 percent from 2000–2009, a time period in which many restaurant companies reduced their use of oils that contained man-made trans fats.

Unlike other fats, the CDC said trans fats are not essential to human health, and that research indicates that high consumption of trans fats is linked to cardiovascular disease.

“The 58 percent decline shows substantial progress that should help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults,” said Christopher Portier, director of the Atlanta-based CDC′s National Center for Environmental Health.

CDC researchers randomly selected white participants ages 20 or older from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for the years 2000 and 2009. It said the purpose was to examine trans-fatty acid blood levels before and after enactment of U.S. Food & Drug Administration trans fat regulations in 2003.

The regulations, which took effect in 2006, required manufacturers of food and some dietary supplements to list the amount of trans-fatty acids, or TFAs, on the “Nutrition Facts” panel of product labels. Some local and state health departments also took steps to help consumers reduce their daily consumption by requiring restaurants to limit their use of TFAs in food and increase public awareness campaigns about the health risks associated with TFAs.

“Findings from the CDC study demonstrate the effectiveness of these efforts in reducing blood [trans-fatty acids] and highlight that further reductions in the levels of trans fats must remain an important public health goal,” Portier said.

Though not bound by the FDA regulations, some restaurant chains voluntarily eliminated or greatly reduced the use of man-made trans fats before or soon after the requirement became law for manufacturers, including Uno Chicago Grill and Panera Bread Co.

Many, if not most, national and regional chains have since followed that strategy. In some cases, the efforts began on a local or statewide basis, as bans on trans fats in restaurant foods were adopted by municipalities or states, including New York City in 2006 and California in 2008.

Some restaurant chains — including KFC and Burger King — reduced or eliminated the use of trans fats due to legal action. Those chains were sued for their use of partially hydrogenated oils containing man-made trans fats by the Centers for Science in the Public Interest.

KFC said the CSPI dropped its suit in 2006 after the chain switched to trans-fat-free cooking oil. A Burger King spokeswoman said its suit “was dismissed because the CSPI had not met the basic legal requirement of alleging someone was actually harmed by trans fats.” Burger King stopped using oil containing man-made trans fats in 2008.

But debates over trans fats in restaurant foods continue.

In early 2011, the Agriculture Committee of the Nebraska State Legislature voted to “indefinitely postpone” legislation that would have prevented quick-service restaurant operators from including toys in kids’ meals that had specific levels of man-made trans fats.

The CDC said since the new study did not include a review of the tactics used to reduce consumption of trans-fatty acids, it is not clear how significant a role restaurants played in the reduction of trans fat levels in blood.

“The decrease may have occurred because of the FDA regulations requiring the listing of TFAs, efforts by state and local health departments with restaurants, and overall increased awareness of health risks associated with TFAs,” Von Roebuck said.

The study, the results of which were published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, marked the first time CDC researchers have been able to measure trans fats in human blood, the CDC said.

Portier said additional studies are under way to examine trans-fatty acid levels in the blood of other adult racial and ethnic groups, children and adolescents.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @AJ_NRN

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