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Efforts to ban restaurant trans fat sweeping cities, states nationwide.

In late 2006, New York City made national headlines when health officials voted to phase out trans fat in all of the city's restaurants, prompting praise from health advocates and protest from the food industry. As it turns out, however, New York City is only one chapter in a growing movement to reduce trans fat in the food supply and, in turn, prevent thousands of premature deaths.

Proposals to phase out trans fat from restaurants and require food establishments to inform consumers as to the trans fat content of their products are under consideration in dozens of U.S. cities and states, including Connecticut, Maryland, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boca Raton, Fla. Most recently, Philadelphia's City Council voted in early February to bar its restaurants from using trans fat. While New York City may have received the biggest headlines for its campaign against trans fat, it wasn't the first city to focus on the food ingredient. The first city to become trans fat-free was Tiburon, Calif., in 2004, according to BanTransFat.com, a nonprofit that successfully sued Kraft in 2003 to eliminate trans fat in Oreos.

Many national restaurant chains as well as the federal government have also jumped on board. In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring food labels to list trans fat information, and chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Wendy's, Ruby Tuesdays and Chili's have announced intentions to begin using alternatives to trans fat. Partially hydrogenated oils are the main source of trans fat in people's diets, and trans fat are produced in large quantities to harden vegetable oils into shortening and margarine, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Harvard researchers have estimated that every year about 30,000 premature coronary heart disease deaths can be attributed to trans fat consumption.

However, knowledge about the dangers of trans fat is not new. In 1990, a study was first conducted that showed trans fat increased levels of bad cholesterol, followed by a steady flow of articles that showed, with clarity, the dangers of trans fat to health, according to Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In 2004, the center unsuccessfully petitioned FDA to require restaurants to inform customers as to whether they use trans fat in their food. The agency's rejection of the petition now leaves the issue up to cities and states, Jacobson told The Nation's Health.

"It's very gratifying to see officials sending a clear signal to restaurants that they better start thinking about getting rid of trans fat," he said.

One city considering such a move is Boston, which sees the option as part of a larger campaign to address obesity, overweight, heart disease and diabetes, said John Auerbach, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. Auerbach said a proposal to ban trans fat in Boston restaurants is actively under consideration and that the governing board that oversees the commission has held two meetings on trans fat regulations. While New York City's actions encouraged Boston health officials to consider regulatory action, the city has already been working with restaurants to eliminate trans fat as part of its Best Bites campaign, a restaurant program aimed at fighting obesity. More action on the Boston trans fat proposal is expected in March, Auerbach said.

"The board and mayor both indicate concern about the health risks of obesity and poor nutrition in Boston and have indicated a desire to continue to do more innovative and aggressive activities," he told The Nation's Health.

In Miami-Dade County, Fla., the campaign to ban trans fat from restaurants is barely a few months old, but has hit the ground running. The Bantransfatin miami.com campaign was founded by nutritionist and author Ronni Litz Julien, who said New York City's success encouraged her to help bring Miami into the fold. Julien said she is already beginning to slowly build support with county policy-makers as well as Miami's mayor, all of whom have already received advocacy packets from the campaign on why Miami-Dade should ban trans fat.

"The best thing would be to (ban trans fat) as a country, rather than having to go from city to city," Julien told The Nation's Health. "This is an issue that's not a food fad. It's a medical issue and people need to take heed."

APHA adopted policy last year supporting such trans fat bans. For more information on trans fat, visit <www.cspinet.org>.
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Title Annotation:STATE & LOCAL: Issues at the state and community levels
Author:Krisberg, Kim
Publication:The Nation's Health
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Words:744
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