Trans-Fat Ban Called Really Bad Idea

Discussion
Oct 02, 2006

By George Anderson


There is a saying that goes, “Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.”


A recent piece by New York Times’ columnist John Tierney would suggest he has found the privilege abuser in none other than Thomas Frieden, New York’s health commissioner.


Mr. Frieden, for those not familiar, has proposed enacting a mandate that would require restaurants in the five boroughs to remove trans-fat from the foods prepared and served to customers. The proposal, if approved, would require restaurants in New York to remove trans-fats from the food they serve by July 2008.


Mr. Tierney said the ban is a bad idea on a number of levels, both culinary and scientific.


For those who consume French fries, he wrote, there is not a great deal of concern about trans-fats. Besides, as anyone who has tasted a McDonald’s fry (trans-fat laden) with a Wendy’s fry (trans-fat reduced) knows the Mickey D’s version wins on taste hands down.


From a scientific standpoint, it is generally acknowledged that trans-fat is no worse for humans than saturated fats (no ban suggested there).


David Kritchevsky of the Wistar Institute, an independent nonprofit research center, told Mr. Tierney trans-fat is the “panic du jour.”


“The New York policy is an overreaction,” said Mr. Kritchevsky. “I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat trans-fat, but it’s nothing I’d go out of my way to avoid. It’s essentially another saturated fat.”


If New York is truly serious about improving the diets of its citizens and the millions who visit the city every year, then it should be developing a policy on saturated fats, according to Mr. Tierney, “because we consume a lot more of them.”


Mr. Tierney suggested there is a middle way to dealing with the trans-fat political “grandstanding” and that would be requiring restaurants to tell people what is in the food they are being served.


“If New Yorkers consume trans-fat at McDonald’s or Chinese restaurants, it’s because they ordered it themselves. Telling them what kind of fat they’re buying might be useful. But they’re perfectly capable of figuring out what to eat. Chef Frieden can leave the ordering to them.”


Discussion Questions: What do you think about the proposed ban on trans-fat in New York restaurants? Does John Tierney have a point that the focus on
the trans-fat issue (nationally and not just in New York) is somehow misguided?

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18 Comments on "Trans-Fat Ban Called Really Bad Idea"


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Karin Miller
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Karin Miller
15 years 7 months ago
Dr. Robert Atkins made the recommendation to avoid “partially hydrogenated oils” (trans-fats) in the mid-90s. He was certain that these were by far the worst kind of fat, and a leading cause of heart disease. Simultaneously, at a time when the general consensus was that fat = bad, he floated the idea that olive, flaxseed and omega-3 oils were good for you. While he was a lone voice in the wilderness with many of his ideas then, much of the scientific community has now embraced major parts of his work, including these concepts. Therefore, I don’t think the statement that scientists “generally” agree that trans-fats and saturated fats are equally bad is an accurate premise for the argument against the ban. Many food producers have eliminated trans-fats now that labeling laws dictate that they must be listed, and I have not heard a loud consumer backlash. This leads me to believe that either the taste has not changed dramatically, or consumers are willing to make this compromise for their health. I think the smarter approach… Read more »
Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
Guest
Michael Richmond, Ph.D.
15 years 7 months ago

When I heard about NYC banning trans-fats I could not believe it was true. It is just plain stupid! I learned back in nutrition class that there are not good and bad foods, only good and bad diets. Spend the money on educating consumers about healthy diets and let’s move past this proposed ban. Spend wisely.

Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
15 years 7 months ago

Chicago bans foie gras. New York wants to ban trans-fats. All-in-all, too much regulatory attention is being spent on issues that should be left to consumer choice. Consumers should be aware of the “risks” they are taking, or informed about the practices used to prepare foods. After that, if a consumer wants to buy foie gras knowing where it comes from, or eat trans-fats knowing about potential health risks, they should be permitted to do so. These issues tend to be more for political gain than for substantive welfare reasons.

Mark Hunter
Guest
Mark Hunter
15 years 7 months ago

The idea of a ban on trans-fats does not have a chance of becoming law in NYC any time soon. However, by simply talking about it, the level of media attention about the subject has increased dramatically and that, in itself, means the objective has been accomplished by getting more people to become informed. Within 10 years, trans-fats will be, with rare exception, a thing of the past and it will be due to consumer preferences and not by legislation.

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

If this guy (Frieden) doesn’t like the freedom in America, why doesn’t he just get the hell out? (And take his fellow travelers with him. :>)

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 7 months ago

This is another example of the worst and stupidest kind of government intervention in the food industry.

Besides, the New York City Health Department? Please! That’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. For $100 bucks and a couple of free meals, you could put E. coli on the menu here.

Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Legislating health purchases has not worked before, and it will probably not work again. This is a bad idea, and should not even be considered. The impact of trans-fats is only a component of what we eat, and they do have a positive role as well. Forcing Americans to only eat certain foods creates a tyrannical position which we have not embraced since the creation of America. There is a clear reason for this. It is an integral part of our culture, government and social pattern in the USA.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Though I share the head shaking attitude of (most of) the posters here, I was startled to see the results of one of the WSJ’s online polls last week, where something like half (or more) of the respondents actually supported this…and yes, it was THAT WSJ (though perhaps the Jounal’s NYC-centric readership approves of regulation when they stand to benefit from it.)

Ciri Raynor Fenzel
Guest
Ciri Raynor Fenzel
15 years 7 months ago

Mandating that restaurants remove trans-fat from prepared foods simply places a band-aid on the real problem: most Americans do not know how to eat a balanced diet. A substantial component of this problem is an educational one. Helping people to understand the effects of trans-fats in their diet is at the core of the issue. Effective marketing in print and broadcast media would go far in educating the public. Incorporating it as part of school curriculums is another method. Labeling trans-fats on packaging is mandated by the FDA — a good first step. However we choose to convey it, trans-fat should be a red flag for consumers today; however, banning trans-fat — as noble as the intent may be — will not solve the issue of heart disease and obesity in the long-term. It would be interesting to ask whether prohibition in the 1920s had a substantive effect on the rates of alcoholism. My guess is that it didn’t….

Alicia McSorley
Guest
Alicia McSorley
15 years 7 months ago

My understanding is that trans-fat is artificial, man-made and therefore worse than natural saturated fats — like margarine compared to butter.

Personally, I travel everyday for my job and my food choices are often limited to fast food on the road. It’s very difficult to eat healthy that way. Yes, I could order salads, but sometimes that’s hard when you’re starving and smelling those fries!

I have to think a lot of this is about dollars and cents for the restaurants. There is an obesity epidemic, it is a matter of public health, and they should be required to use a healthier alternative.

James Tenser
Guest
15 years 7 months ago
Trans-fats (AKA partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) are an ingredient worth avoiding in the diet, in my opinion. They offer no known health benefit, raise the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels in the body and lower the “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfat). In short, they are bad for the heart. They also are an inexpensive, meat-free and good-tasting medium for deep frying. As a consumer, I want to take advantage of every opportunity to avoid this food ingredient, because I believe that small quantities, consumed regularly over a lifetime may have adverse health affects. The proposed ban on their use in NYC restaurants may prove unworkable for a variety of reasons. For one, it would have to be enforced by health inspectors. For another, deep fat fryers are designed use vegetable shortening and changing may be very difficult. Thirdly, some diners aren’t in favor of a ban. As an alternative, I would favor mandatory full disclosure of the fat content of foods – either on the menu or on a menu supplement that must be offered to… Read more »
Colin Jephson
Guest
Colin Jephson
15 years 7 months ago

There is a considerable body of scientific opinion which believes that trans-fats are worse for us than saturated fats because they deliver a “double-whammy” on our cholesterol, raising the “bad” cholesterol while lowering the “good” cholesterol. To avoid eating trans-fats is good advice, probably as good as reducing consumption of saturated fats, stoping smoking and getting regular exercise!

Banning trans-fats is probably not the way forward – but clear labeling and awareness-building campaigns, while important, may not be enough either.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Just a general comment… Food items sold in supermarkets have always come under so much more scrutiny than menu items sold in restaurants. It’s hard not to take perverse pleasure in watching all the outraged caterwauling among restaurateurs, who have not seen anywhere near as much of the food police billy clubs as supermarkets and packaged food manufacturers have. Can’t say I’d object if restaurateurs had to follow more of the same rules that supers do. The trans-fat “ban?” Come on. This will all settle down in time.

Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
15 years 7 months ago

Way too much regulation! Just tell me what my risk is or what the ingredients are and most consumers can make their own choices. If you really put this in context of, say, selling cigarettes, is this really the best use of energy?

Bob Houk
Guest
Bob Houk
15 years 7 months ago

Mr. Frieden (and others like him) should take the following hint: Stay out of my life, I’m a grown-up, I’ll make my own decisions. Short form: Butt out!

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Instead of banning trans-fats, suppose Thomas Frieden of the NYC Health Department simply requires all restaurants to make available an ingredient list of every item on the menu? Not the recipes. Not posted on the wall. Not a mandatory part of the menu. Just make the list available. Certain hotel menus list the fat and calories. I can’t be the only customer who finds this information useful.

As for the legislation of healthy eating, it’s not unusual to ban certain food additives. And restaurant owners all wailed about the end of the world when smoking was banned, so their credibility isn’t too good. Business political posturing is most effective when priorities are chosen carefully. Lobbying against health probably isn’t worthwhile and it’s certainly bad public relations.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
15 years 7 months ago

In New York City and elsewhere, consumers cannot easily determine the differences in nutritional value of menu choices at most restaurants. Some restaurants use symbols to indicate “healthier” choices, but standards vary by chain.

I believe consumers should have more information on which to base their menu choices, just as they do on product labels in supermarkets. And restaurants could go a long ways towards increasing consumption of delicious fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains by making small menu changes. As anyone who has looked at the typical kid’s menu in most restaurants, there are often no fruits or vegetables or salad offered with these meals. Often French fries are the only choice offered, whether they are cooked in trans-fat or another oil.

A ban on trans-fats may not be realistic, so perhaps the New York Health Commissioner would serve consumers better if he helped to educate chefs and the public on healthy choices. And he could encourage consumers to ask how items are prepared so they can avoid those bad trans-fats easily.

John Franco
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Forget banning trans-fats. Forget full menu disclosure. If the NYC Public Health officials really want to try to mandate something where they don’t belong anyway, why don’t they just mandate that people exercise an hour a day? It has the same chance of passing (zero) and would be a lot more beneficial!

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