Taking artificial trans fats off the menu reduces hospitalizations for heart attack and stroke, suggests a study that examined what happened after several areas in New York restricted the fats’ use. The findings portend larger scale public health benefits after a nationwide ban on artificial trans fats begins in the United States in 2018.
Hospital admission rates for heart attacks declined 7.8 percent more in New York counties that restricted trans fats than in those counties that had not, researchers report online April 12 in JAMA Cardiology.
“This is the first study that links a trans fats ban to a reduction in heart disease and stroke in large populations,” says nutritional epidemiologist Frank Hu of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “The evidence from this study indicates that implementation of a nationwide ban on trans fats will reduce heart disease and save many lives in the United States.”
Heart disease causes one in every four deaths in the United States. Coronary heart disease, the most common kind, kills more than 370,000 people each year. Past research finds that eating foods containing artificial trans fats, also called trans-fatty acids, increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Among other effects, consuming these fats leads to higher levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, a component of artery-clogging plaque. Artificial, or industrial, trans fats occur in vegetable oils that are partially hydrogenated. Foods typically made with these oils include deep-fried fast foods, baked goods, crackers and margarine.
Beginning in 2007, New York City restricted artificial trans fats in food bought at restaurants, cafeterias, bakeries and other eateries. A number of New York counties followed suit over the next several years. The restrictions provided a good opportunity to examine changes in cardiovascular health after implementation, says coauthor Eric Brandt, a Yale University internist.