Intended for healthcare professionals

News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

New York plans to restrict trans fats in restaurants

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.333.7572.772-d (Published 12 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:772
  1. Janice Tanne
  1. New York

    New York city, which banned smoking in restaurants three years ago, now wants its restaurants sector—the largest in the United States—to reduce the content of trans fats in its meals. It wants the amount in each serving to be reduced to 0.5 g per serving within the next 18 months.

    A second proposal calls for restaurants with standard menus to post information on energy content of items they serve on their menus or menu boards by March 2007.

    Restaurant meals are a major source of artificial trans fats (trans fatty acids), the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says. A single fast food meal may contain more than 10 g of trans fats, whereas the recommended level is less than 0.5 g per serving.

    Dietary trans fats are found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that have been chemically modified. When fried such oils last longer than other oils, and they increase the shelf life of baked goods. They are found in many fried foods, baked foods, margarines, vegetable shortening, and salad dressings.

    “Trans fat causes heart disease,” said Thomas Frieden, New York city's health commissioner. “New Yorkers are consuming a hazardous, artificial substance without their knowledge or consent … [It] is invisible and dangerous, and it can be replaced. While it may take some effort, restaurants can replace trans fat without changing the taste or cost of food. No one will miss it when it's gone.”

    Trans fat raises the concentration of LDL cholesterol and lowers that of HDL cholesterol. A typical US diet contains 5.8 g of trans fat each day. A 150 g serving of chips may contain 8 g of trans fat.

    The US Food and Drug Administration has required food manufacturers to list trans fat content on nutritional labels on packaged foods since early this year. However, consumers have no way of knowing the trans fat content of restaurant or takeaway meals.

    A year ago the New York city health department asked all the city's 3500 or more restaurants to reduce or replace trans fat and provided training to help. Some well known restaurants complied, but most did not.

    The board of health, the health department's legislative arm, recommended an amendment to the city's health code. Restaurants would have to reduce trans fat content to 0.5 g per serving. Naturally occurring trans fats in meats and dairy products would not be affected, nor would prepacked items such as sweets.

    After a public hearing the board will issue rules in December. Then restaurants would have six months to reduce their use of cooking oils, shortening, and margarine with trans fats and 18 months to reduce trans fats in other products.

    A restaurant industry spokesman told the New York Times that his group would probably sue the health department. Many restaurants bought partially prepared foods that may have been made with trans fats, he said, and also it would be difficult for small restaurants to comply (http://www.nytimes.com/, 27 Sep, “Some owners uneasy about proposal”).

    The proposals are available at www.nyc.gov/health.

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