New York City now has hard evidence that its ban on trans fat in restaurant food made a meaningful dent in people’s consumption of the artery clogger and wasn’t just replaced with another bad fat.
The findings being published Tuesday have implications beyond heart health, suggesting another strategy to curb the nation’s obesity epidemic fueled by a high-calorie, super-sized environment.
New York City issued a first-of-its-kind rule restricting artificial trans fat in restaurants, forcing them to alter recipes so that foods contained no more than 0.5 grams per serving. The change affected customers beyond New York as big chains like McDonald’s wound up cutting the fat system-wide.
The latest study by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows the effect. Researchers surveyed customers and collected receipts for nearly 15,000 lunchtime purchases at fast-food chains around the city in 2007 and 2009, before and after the ban was in place.
The amount of trans fat in each lunch sold dropped an average of 2.4 grams after the ban, researchers report in Tuesday’s edition of Annals of Internal Medicine. The biggest drop, 3.8 grams, occurred in hamburger chains, followed by Mexican food and fried chicken chains.
No one’s saying that turned junk food into health food. But for people who eat fast food regularly, it’s a significant reduction in heart risk, said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The American Heart Association has long recommended that people limit trans fat to less than 2 grams a day. The newest government dietary guidelines urge people to eat as little trans fat as possible.