Wednesday, September 27, 2006

No, New York Should Not Ban Fat

The New York City Board of Health took a step closer to banning trans fat in all city restaurants. Many doctors think that trans fat is bad for your heart. It probably is. But it shouldn't be banned in a free country.

The model that the fat banners use is the smoking ban in New York public buildings, including restaurants. I support a smoking ban in most places, including restaurants. Personally, I would let people smoke in bars, since people go to bars in the first place to do things that are bad for them.

The point is, though, that second-hand smoke is bad for other people beside the smoker. Second-hand fat is not even a meaningful concept. The Board of Health might spend its budget trying to convince people that trans fat is bad for them, and telling them all the kinds of food it appears in. They might require labels on all trans fat foods. They might even make fun of fat people.

But banning fat is just too intrusive. It gives some reality to the insult, "health Nazis."


SPorcupine said...

Among edible fats, transfats are especially unhealthy, but some food makers use them because they're cheaper and easier. Not massively cheaper, just enough cheaper to shave a penny here and a nickel there.

At the grocery store, you can now fend them off, because foods are labelled. Almost the minute the transfat section was added to the label, major vendors started pulling them out of their main products: they'd rather lose a penny a box than cut their boxes-sold by 10 percent.

At current restaurants, no such luck. Chains can save a couple of cents an entree and let it add up, because no one knows where the transfats are.

And no, government can't name which foods include transfats, because they're just a cost-cutting version of almost anything with where oil or or butter or shortening is a relevant ingredient.

A ban is too much, but consumer "choice" without information is too little.

Gruntled said...

So the Board of Health can certify "this restaurant is trans fat free." Or they could require restaurants to label items on the menu "warning: contains trans fat." They do that with nut traces now. Mandating information is a good centrist way.

kairos said...

What's your view about putting floride in the drinking water?

On NPR today I caught a few minutes of a discussion on this matter by an advocate. He was talking about changing the 'default' option, making good public health choices the default and bad ones optional but, indeed, choices off of the norm. So floride in the water becomes standard, because it is good for ones teeth. How is this different?

I think this is the NPR discussion.

I've not listened to the whole thing, but it is interesting. Florinated water seems a much better analogy than the smoking issue, and it changes the critique that you offer.

Thanks for posting and commenting about this!

Gruntled said...

I can see that fluoridating water is an intermediate case between a smoking ban and a fat ban. Still, I think adding is different than banning. If the FDA decided that trans fat was bad in all cases and should be banned nationwide, that would be different. But the FDA also requires a much higher standard of proof, and of harm, than the New York Board of Health does.

Edith OSB said...

Another problem with the transfat ban: it doesn't come close to addressing the problem it's designed to help: heart disease. Most restaurant food is high in fat of all types. Our taste buds are wired for the taste of fat, so they sell us juicy (fatty) meat, cheese-sauce or cream-sauce, rich desserts. Even if all the transfat were removed, we would just eat more saturated fats.

As we choose to eat out, or buy prepared foods, for a greater proportion of meals, our girth grows and our health declines. I blogged about this a while back at

Floride in the water directly achieves its goal, and the ban on smoking directly protects people from the problems of second-hand smoke. A ban on transfats, in contrast, does not remove the entire class of harmful substances. It does nothing to change the social and behavioral patterns that expose us to so much transfat.

Some sort of labeling would be nice, but if they use butter, cheese, or lard to replace transfats, even the label won't guide us toward something healthy.

If one peruses the nutritional information available online for chain restaurants, the high fat and salt content is amazing, and the very small number of truly healthy options quite disappointing.

Gruntled said...

Good point. One could put a health tax on all kinds of fat, to pay for national health care. That might kill two birds ... (maybe the wrong metaphor).

kairos said...

Very helpful thoughts, Edith. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Yes, New york should ban Trans fat! We've banned plenty in the history of the USA: leaded gas, loaded guns...I mean, if it's PROVEN by people who STUDY the DAMNED MOLECULE and it's IMPACT on, oh...HUMAN ARTERIES..then, I think that this, naturally occurring fat in the smallest of quantities, indeed, should not be propogated by man, if IN FACT, its ARTIFICIAL aspects are...FATAL. You could call it life span SHORTENING. Crikey, it kills! This stuff (for lack of a better word) MAKES people FATTER than OTHERWISE! YOU EAT TRANS-FATTY food and YOU WILL GET an APPLE SHAPED GUT! Look at the FOODS people eat, then look at the PEOPLE THEMSELVES!


I mean this stuff may cause diabetes...This is what happens when we trusted the 20th century "Cheap Executive Officers" and mass marketing...We know better NOW, lets not wait till LATER.


So put that in your water and drink it. Or buy a $30 faucet filter. Whatever's clever or scientificlly scrutinized.

A 5 year old doesn't choose trans fat loaded animal crackers.