The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that trans fats are no longer safe to consume in processed foods and should be eliminated from our diets. However, processed foods are still being manufactured containing trans fats and many restaurants including major fast food chains are still using them in their foods.
Dr. Marcelo Coca Perraillon, assistant professor of health systems, management and policy at the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus recently co-authored a study published in JAMA Cardiology that evaluated the cardiovascular health effects of restricting trans fats in our diets.
Led by Dr. Eric Brandt of Yale University School of Medicine, the researchers analyzed data from hospitalization records between 2002-2013 to evaluate cardiovascular events among residents before and after trans fats restrictions occurred in New York State.
“New York is the first state that has this ban so we can see how it affects health at the population level,” said Dr. Perraillon, who helped design the observational study and the analysis of the data.
The research team compared 11 counties with trans fats restrictions and 25 counties without trans fats restrictions and found that over the three-year period, there was a 6.2 percent decline of hospitalizations for strokes and heart attacks among people living in counties with trans fats restrictions compared to residents living in areas without trans fats restrictions.
Overall, the restriction of trans fats in New York State was found to have a positive impact on residents’ cardiovascular health.
Perraillon and his colleagues analyzed changes in cardiovascular health using a difference-in-difference regression design, a research model that allows investigators to compare outcomes. This method uses controls to compare a group before and after a policy change.
To further prevent cardiovascular events and improve the health of the population, the FDA now requires manufacturers to eliminate trans fats from foods by 2018. While the intention is to improve the health of the population by discouraging the sale of foods containing trans fats, it may not completely eliminate trans fats from diets.
“The FDA requirement doesn’t ban trans fats completely, it just restricts their use,” explained Dr. Perraillon. “Labels say zero percent trans fats, but the product could still contain up to a half of a percent. This is particularly important in restaurants because restaurants are not obligated to provide food labels to consumers.”
Still, a policy change like this is beneficial because of the long-term prevention effects that it has. Restricting the sale of foods with added trans fats can have lasting health benefits.
Additionally, creating trans fats restrictions and policies will not affect the personal autonomy of consumers who purchase foods containing trans fats because it is a needed change.
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