For years doctors and other health experts have been sounding the alarm about artery-clogging trans fats. And now the Food and Drug Administration has heeded the warning.
The FDA announced Thursday that it will require the food industry to phase them out, though no time frame was given. The administration will collect comments for two months before determining a suitable timetable to phase out the artificial fats that are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid.
The FDA is not targeting small amounts of trans fats that occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, because they would be too difficult to remove and aren’t considered a major public health threat on their own.
The action was met with applause from medical professionals nationally and locally, who noted a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that a further reduction of trans fat in the food supply can prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and up to 20,000 heart attacks each year.
Lindsey McGeehan, a physician’s assistant at Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre, said trans fats are as big a health threat as smoking and drinking alcohol in excess but perhaps more dangerous because you don’t need to be a certain age to buy products with it and it’s easily accessible to children. Plus, there’s no surgeon general warning on that pack of cookies or box of microwave popcorn.
McGeehan, of Dupont, said she sees a high percentage of patients on a daily basis that have high cholesterol, diabetes or other health issues that are directly related to diet or trans fats. While eliminating trans fats won’t solve the problem of obesity or heart attacks, it will go a long way in reducing the risks.
“I think it will have an incredible impact on the health of Americans,” she said.
The pending elimination of trans fats was met with praise and some kudos for the FDA for taking a stand on something that affects the health of millions in the country of all ages.
“Getting rid of artificial trans fat is one of the most important life-saving measures the FDA could take,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health, food safety and nutrition advocacy organization in Washington.
“Thousands of heart attack deaths will be prevented in the years ahead. The FDA deserves credit for letting science, and not politics, shape its new proposed policy on artificial trans fat,” he said.
The push to end trans fats started years ago and some cities have banned them. As Americans have become more health-conscience companies started using less of them in products. While some restaurants use them to fry food and they are also used in microwave popcorn, biscuits and pie crusts, they’re much less consumed today than a decade ago.
According to the FDA, trans fat intake among Americans declined from 4.6 grams per day in 2003 to around one gram in 2012.
While fats themselves aren’t too bad if eaten in moderation, McGeehan said when it came to trans fats the only benefits were for the food manufacturers that used them to increase product stability and shelf life. While the FDA looks into banning them, she suggested the FDA place labels on packages informing purchasers of the risks associated with trans fats.
“I don’t think labels always work but even if it stops a few people from buying them, it’s a good thing,” she said.