In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will implement a nationwide ban on trans fats in processed foods.
The move comes five years after the federal agency declared that the food substance — also known as partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs — is not safe for people to consume.
A high intake of PHOs is linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Reducing the number of people who develop heart disease and fatal heart attacks was cited as the main reason that the FDA decided to ban the product.
Studying trans fats
While it’s too soon to tell what kind of influence the ban will have on the greater population in terms of decreased heart disease, a study released last month in JAMA Cardiology revealed that the potential impact is promising.
Researchers compared several localities that ban trans fats in restaurants with those that don’t.
They analyzed data from state health sources between the years 2002 and 2013, focusing on hospital records of heart attack and stroke.
Three years after trans fats bans were put in place, the numbers revealed a 6 percent decline in hospitalization due to coronary heart disease for people who lived in areas where the trans fats were prohibited.
“It’s significant,” said Dr. Bruce Lee, associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Even though the study was small in scale, Lee said it reinforces previous research and declarations that banning trans fats is good for public health.
“There is a good body of evidence that supports the policy that bans trans fats,” he told Healthline.
When it comes to packaged foods, trans fats are everywhere.
Consumers can find them in products from breads to cookies to frozen pizzas.
The oils provide a longer “shelf life” and add flavor to many popular name brand products.
Trans fats do occur naturally in meat and dairy products, but the FDA ban won’t impact those food items, just the ones that contain artificial trans fats.
By 2002, a significant number of studies had revealed that trans fats were unhealthy.
Four years later, the FDA issued a label change to all processed foods. Those new rules stated that the amount of trans fats be listed along with carbohydrates, sugars, and fats.
What the ban will mean
Next year, if a product carries less than .5 grams of trans fats the label will list “0 trans fats.”
What does this new rule mean for consumers?
First up, food manufactures won’t stop adding oils and fats into their product. They’ll just come up with new recipes that include news types of fats.
The FDA estimated that removing trans fats from processed foods would cost an estimated $6 billion to put in effect, according to The New York Times.
But it’s also expected to save $140 billion over 20 years in healthcare and other costs.
Consumers should also be prepared that some food products that we’ve grown fond of will likely taste different. These include Coffee-mate, Bisquick, and Twinkies, according to a story published in the Greatest.
Dr. Boris Lushniak, dean of the Epidemiology and Biostats Department at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, and a former U.S. Deputy Surgeon General, said it’s a small price to pay if it means moving the needle on heart disease.
“Through science we have convinced policy makers to change context,” he told Healthline. “And we’ve been doing this for a while.”
He points to the transformation of cigarettes in American society.
In the 1950s roughly 42 percent of Americans smoked. Today, it’s just 16 percent of adults.
But that sea change took more than 50 years of ever-changing public policy.
“We’ve saved 8 million lives,” he said.
More than just trans fats
The ban on trans fats is a little trickier, Lushniak contends.
There are many other factors that contribute to heart disease. Genetics and exercise are some extenuating circumstances that can influence if, how, or when a person develops heart disease.
Lee said it’s important to note that public health issues such as heart disease and obesity are a result of entrenched systems. Even more so than what we decide to eat every day.
Urban sprawl, and people walking less, coupled with social trends and financial disparity all contribute to our nation’s overall health, he noted.
“It’s complicated,” he said. “Since the 1980s you started see changes in the food systems. Food became less natural, a boom in food science how to improve food.”
He said that the ban won’t be the golden ticket. Rather, it’s just one piece of a puzzle to improving America’s overall health.
“Everything in moderation, get up and move, control your weight,” Lushniak said. “That’s a message that everyone can get behind.”