Last week, New York City’s Board of Health unanimously approved a proposal to ban artificial trans fat use in all city restaurants. Some restaurants will also be required to post calorie counts for the foods they serve on menus and menu boards.
While a small amount of trans fat exists naturally in some animal products, the vast majority of these fats are created artificially through a process called “partial hydrogenation.” This process changes the structure of the fat molecule, making it solid at room temperature and giving it a longer shelf life.
Trans fat consumption has been shown to raise the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death among people with diabetes. In a statement of support for the New York City trans fat ban, the American Diabetes Association has said that “the passage of this proposal is especially relevant to people with diabetes who are at increased risk of heart attack and stroke.” The National Restaurant Association, which does not support the ban, has called the time span in which the restaurants must eliminate trans fats “unworkable” and expressed “serious concerns about the Board of Health’s ability to educate restaurants on this issue.”
The 24,000 restaurants in New York City will have until July 1, 2007, to switch to cooking fats and spreads (oils, shortenings, and margarines) that contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. They will have until July 1, 2008, to eliminate trans fats from all other foods.
A related measure also passed by the New York City Board of Health will require restaurants that already share calorie counts for their food (such as in brochures or on the Internet) to post these calorie counts on their menus and menu boards. This measure will affect about 10% of the city’s restaurants—mostly fast food and chain restaurants—which will need to post the calorie counts by July 1, 2007. According to the Board of Health, recent studies show that 9 out of 10 people underestimate the number of calories in restaurant items by more than 600 calories.