The Food and Drug Administration is on the verge of following New York’s lead in banning the main source of trans fat in food.
To which we ask: What took so long?
Six years ago, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s leadership, New York outlawed partially hydrogenated vegetable oil—the leading source of trans fat—from the city’s restaurants. While some restaurant chains, notably McDonald’s, had taken this step on their own, many others in the food service industry were outraged. The mayor, it was said, once again was playing the role of a civic scold.
Well, as a matter of fact, he was, and for all the right reasons. As the FDA said the other day, foods prepared with partially hydrogenated oils are not safe. That’s because they’ve been linked to increased risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association was blunt in its assessment of the effects of trans fat. “The scientific evidence is clear: Eating food with trans fat increased the production of ‘bad’ cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease,” the AHA said.
Mr. Bloomberg said as much and more six years ago, when the city issued its ban on trans fat that is the result of using partially hydrogenated oil (some trans fat occurs naturally—nothing City Hall can do about that). Despite dire warnings about the ban’s impact on the city’s food industry, the city’s restaurants appear to be doing just fine, thank you. And diners are consuming healthier, heart-friendlier food.
As Mr. Bloomberg prepares to hand over City Hall to his successor, it’s appropriate to reflect on the ways in which he has left his mark on the city. One of his strongest legacies is in the field of public health, where New York has become a world leader in identifying and attacking 21st-century health threats.
His support for a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars no doubt has saved the health—and lives—of food service workers and regular patrons. His campaign against obesity was widely mocked, but it succeeded in bringing more attention to the terrifying spike on diabetes in urban areas. And Mr. Bloomberg’s ban on trans fat helped set the stage for the FDA’s recent actions, which most observers view as a step toward a national ban similar to New York’s.
Mr. Bloomberg didn’t create this issue single-handedly. But his determination and vision gave momentum and publicity to a relatively simply but vitally important public health issue. For that, the city ought to be grateful.