Trans fat ban extends outgoing mayor's influence

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has earned the moniker "The Nanny" for his many efforts to force Big Apple residents to adopt healthier lifestyles.

You've probably heard comedians poking fun of his ban of the "Big Gulp," although the regulation actually limits sugary soda sizes when served with meals, not when purchased from convenience stores.

But there is plenty of ammunition for the pundits.

Under Bloomberg's watch, food service providers were forced to post calorie counts on menues, tried to bar people from using food stamps to buy soda and tried to have an extra penny per ounce of tax on sugary soda, banned smoking in most outdoor places, and wants food makers and restaurants to reduce sodium by 25 percent.

All of these efforts have spread to other parts of the country, and this week, the Food and Drug Administration chimed in by proposing a virtual ban on trans fats -- one of the first steps taken by Bloomberg in New York, in 2005.

The FDA pulled trans fats from the list of foods "generally recognized as safe," the first step toward eliminating them from the food supply altogether.

Some trans fats occur normally, but most of them are created by exposure to hydrogen gas, which turns them to a solid. That made them popular for baking and frying because they lasted a long time, and in margarine, because they were cheaper than animal fats like butter.

Trans fats are found in a variety of frozen, canned and baked processed foods. Partially hydrogenated oils are the major dietary source of trans fats in processed food.

But scientists began to find evidence that they were worse for us than any other fat because they raise the levels of "bad cholesterol" and lower the levels of "good cholesterol," and could be linked to a higher risk of heart attack.

The FDA has already required them to be listed on labels, and many fast-food restaurants found substitutes for them in frying.

It worked; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that blood levels of trans fatty acids among white adults in the United States declined by 58 percent from 2000 to 2009.

The FDA's commissioner said the new rules, if finalized, could prevent 20,000 heart attcks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

Civil libertarians no doubt see the move as further government intrusion into our private lives, but it is not hard to justify banning an artificial fat that usually doesn't occur in nature.

And, with the pending implementation of the Affordable Care Act the government has even more reason -- justified or not -- for intruding into our personal dietary habits.

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