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FDA Moves to Eliminate Unhealthy Trans Fats from Food Products by 2018

Published: 6/29/15
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Twitter summary: FDA recently announced trans fats as “not safe” and orders for them to be phased out by June 2018

The FDA recently declared that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the main source of industrially produced trans fat, are not “generally recognized as safe.” The FDA hopes that reducing trans fat intake will lower heart disease rates, and as a result, food manufacturers now have three years to get rid of PHOs from their food. PHOs have been used since the 1950s to increase the shelf-life of processed foods; however, a 2002 report found a direct association between intake of trans fat and increased levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind), which can lead to artery clogging and heart disease. Trans fats can also reduce levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind). The FDA hopes that this decision will reduce coronary disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks each year, as well as saving $130 billion in net health care costs (e.g., costs of treating heart disease, complications from type 2 diabetes, etc.) and other costs over 20 years. Indeed, in 2013, the FDA stated that this elimination of trans fats could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

This isn’t the first step the FDA has taken against trans fats; in 2006 the FDA required that food manufacturers state the amount of trans fat on food nutrition labels, which actually drove many manufacturers to voluntarily modify their products to reduce or eliminate trans fats. However, according to the American Heart Association, many popular food products such as cake frostings, microwave popcorn, stick margarines, and coffee creamers still contain manufactured trans fats. Food companies can also currently list “0 grams” of trans fats on nutrition labels as long as the food contains less than 0.5 grams.

Heart disease and diabetes are closely tied – according to the American Diabetes Association, heart attacks and strokes afflict those with diabetes more than twice as often compared to those without, and heart disease is the primary cause of death for two-thirds of people with diabetes. This decision, which comes after a lengthy review process, is a positive step forward, joining other FDA initiatives in providing healthier food options to people with diabetes. The Agency has an extremely challenging job – regulating all food and medicine in the US – and not enough resources to carry it out. We salute the FDA for continuing to take concrete steps on improving the food environment. -Esther Wu

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