New York, NY -- December 4, 2006. As the New York City Health Department prepares to vote tomorrow on its proposal to reduce heart disease risk by banning the use of trans fatty acids (TFAs) in City eateries, one science group argues that it would be wiser to educate consumers about more important causes of heart disease -- and that even advising daily alcohol consumption would make more health sense than banning trans fats.
The science-promoting consumer education group the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) argues that the cardiovascular health of New Yorkers would benefit far more if the Health Department educated New Yorkers about established preventable causes of heart disease -- and steps they might take to reduce their risk.
"Trans fats account for less than 2% of the calories most New Yorkers consume daily," notes Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan, President of ACSH. "Banning TFAs in restaurants -- especially if they are replaced with saturated fats -- will do little or nothing to reduce heart disease risk."
¢By contrast, the leading preventable causes of heart disease are cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and elevated blood cholesterol. New York City has made major strides in reducing smoking, but some 18% of City residents continue to smoke cigarettes and are at very high risk of heart disease.
¢Similarly, hundreds of thousands of City residents have hypertension -- high blood pressure -- and a substantial portion of them do not know it and thus are not receiving appropriate medical attention.
¢New Yorkers with elevated blood cholesterol need to be educated as to their options to reduce it -- limiting intake of dietary saturated fat and, probably more important, discussing with their physicians the option of taking cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins).
The contribution of trans fats to heart disease is insignificant compared to these three major risk factors.
Furthermore: "If the City Health Department wants to give New Yorkers information on how they can further reduce their risk of heart disease, instead of banning trans fats, it should inform consumers about the heart-healthy use of moderate alcohol," says Whelan. "The body of scientific research indicates that moderate alcohol use can prevent approximately 80,000 deaths -- primarily from heart disease -- in the United States, suggesting that if New Yorkers were educated as to the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, over two thousand deaths could be prevented each year."
"In the past three decades, almost every epidemiological study has demonstrated that middle-aged individuals who drink small to moderate amounts of alcohol -- one or two drinks daily -- have a lower risk than non-drinkers of dying of coronary heart disease," adds ACSH Medical and Executive Director, Dr. Gilbert Ross. Epidemiological, clinical, and experimental studies indicate that alcohol consumption is associated with milder degrees of atherosclerosis and/or with lower risk of heart disease. Among middle-aged and elderly people, moderate drinkers have a lower general mortality than do abstainers. This bottom-line positive effect appears to outweigh the possible adverse effects of moderate drinking.
While TFA critics argue, correctly, that TFAs can raise "bad" cholesterol (LDL) and decrease "good" cholesterol (HDL), it is unlikely that they have a significant impact at the low levels of TFA consumption common today. By comparison, moderate alcohol consumption not only reduces LDL but raises HDL, reduces the platelet aggregation that contributes to clotting, increases coronary blood flow, and reduces blood pressure.
"All types of alcoholic beverages -- wine, beer, and distilled spirits -- are associated with decreased risk of coronary heart disease," adds ACSH Nutrition Director Dr. Ruth Kava. "The protective effect appears to be due primarily to the alcohol itself, rather than to other components of alcoholic beverages."
"New York City government getting involved in the business of preventing heart disease in ways other than through public education raises questions. But if the City does take on such a challenge, it would be critically important to choose those public health interventions that have proven efficacy," argues Whelan. These include smoking cessation, treatment of high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels, and moderate daily use of alcohol among older New Yorkers. "We know these measures will save lives. We have no such assurance that banning TFAs will save any lives."
*Some people need to abstain from or minimize their consumption of alcohol: No one should drink before driving or engaging in other activities that involve attention and skill or physical risk (operating machinery, boating, skiing etc). Some should avoid or limit alcohol use for health reasons, including individuals with a personal or family history of alcohol abuse, persons who cannot keep their drinking moderate, women who are pregnant or planning to conceive, and individuals who are taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact adversely with alcohol.
For more information, please contact:
Dr. Elizabeth Whelan Whelan[at]acsh.org
Dr. Ruth Kava Kava[at]acsh.org
Dr. Gilbert Ross Ross[at]acsh.org
See Jeff Stier on CNBC's Power Lunch on trans fats
UPDATE: On Dec. 5, the ban passed and ACSH issued the following press release:
SCIENTISTS PROTEST NEW YORK CITY BAN ON TRANS FATS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK, NY- DECEMBER 5, 2006. The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) today denounced the unanimous decision of the New York City Health Department to ban the use of any trans fatty acids (TFAs) in New York City restaurants. By July 2007 TFAs must be eliminated from spreads and cooking oils and all trans fats must be removed from baked goods July 2008.
Having reviewed the pertinent scientific literature on TFAs and coronary heart disease, ACSH has concluded that the contribution of TFAs to heart disease has been greatly overstated by the Health Department to the point of obscuring far more important risk factors for heart disease.
According to Dr. Gilbert L. Ross, ACSH medical director, The heightened media attention now paid to trans fatty acids as a possible cause of heart disease distracts consumers from the three major known preventable causes of heart disease: cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and unhealthy levels of LDL cholesterol and other blood lipids. In addition to these primary controllable risk factors, there are others, including diabetes, obesity, and genetic predisposition, that increase the risk of heart disease." Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of ACSH, added, "While a diet high in TFAs can raise LDL or bad cholesterol levels, TFAs play a relatively small role in an individual's overall risk of heart disease.
Twenty years ago, it was believed that TFAs would be a healthier type of fat to use for many applications and many food producers substituted them for saturated fats. New research now indicates that TFAs can raise levels of LDL cholesterol just like saturated fats. ACSH nutrition director Dr. Ruth Kava points out that it is not known what many restaurants will use in place of TFAs and what the health implications of this new ingredient will be.
ACSH believes nutrition policies should be based on moderation, balance, common sense, and sound science, not hyperbole and therefore opposes the new ban.