The elimination of trans fats in certain counties in New York state led to a comparable decline of cardiovascular events, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Cardiology on Wednesday.
“The most important message from these data is that they confirm what we predicted: benefit in the reduction of heart attacks and strokes,” Dr. Eric Brandt, the study’s lead author, told reporters. “This is a well-planned and well-executed public policy.
New York City became the first city in the nation to ban the use of trans fats in restaurants, effective July 2008. The city prohibited the use of hydrogenated vegetable oils, shortenings or margarines for frying, pan-frying, grilling or as a spread unless the restaurants could show that the cooking aid contained less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
For the study, researchers looked at the instances of stroke and myocardial infarctions — the blockage of blood flow to the heart — among New Yorkers in 11 counties that instituted the ban and 25 that didn’t. The retrospective study took data from the New York State Department of Health and census information from 2002 to 2011.
The researchers found a significant decrease of myocardial infarctions and strokes among the populations where the ban took effect compared with those that didn’t.
“The NYS populations with [trans fatty acid] restrictions experienced fewer cardiovascular events, beyond temporal trends, compared with those without restrictions,” the authors wrote in their conclusion.
While processed and prepackaged food was a symbol of the burgeoning American middle class in the 1950s, the consumption has contributed to today’s obesity epidemic.
Trans fats, in particular, contribute to heart disease — the No. 1 killer in the U.S. — by raising bad cholesterol levels and lowering good ones, according to the American Heart Association. It also leads to stroke and is associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the organization notes.
Trans fats are most commonly found in baked goods, fried food and snacks, creamers and margarine. Restaurants, fast-food establishments and food manufacturers favor these types of oils for cooking because of its taste, affordability and long shelf life.
But it wasn’t until the 1990s that research began to discover the health risks they posed.
In 2006, the same year New York City introduced its ban, the FDA started requiring food manufacturers to identify the amount of trans fats in the nutritional information on packaged food.
By 2015, the FDA had downgraded partially hydrogenated oils as not “generally recognized as safe” for use in human food. This classification accompanied the announcement for manufacturers to begin eliminating all trans fats from their products.
When the FDA’s nationwide ban was first announced, media outlets reported that companies were already taking steps to reduce or eliminate trans fats in their products.
The National Restaurant Association, which represents more than 1 million restaurants and food service outlets, said at the time that the FDA and the food industry had already succeeded in decreasing trans fats consumption in the U.S. by 78 percent, from 2003 to 2011.
Some food servers and sellers started eliminating trans fats in their products before the FDA announced the ban.
In 2007, Starbucks announced that it would end the use of artificial trans fats.
Wal-Mart aimed to eliminate all trans fats from products sold in its stores by 2015. A request for comment as to whether it achieved the goal was not received by press time.
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