New York residents have benefited from rules that ban trans fat in restaurants: Rates of heart attack and stroke have dropped in New York counties where such bans have been enacted, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that starting three years after the effort to restrict the use of trans fats in eating establishments was introduced, the New York counties with these restrictions experienced a 6.2 percent reduction in hospital admissions for heart attacks and strokes, compared with New York counties without similar restrictions.
This translates to 43 fewer heart attacks and strokes per 100,000 adult residents (ages 25 and older) in the New York counties with trans fat restrictions, according to the study published online today (April 12) in the journal JAMA Cardiology. [9 Disgusting Things That the FDA Allows in Your Food]
The 6.2 percent decline in cardiovascular events found in the new study fell within the bounds of what other researchers have found in their estimates, said the study's lead author, Dr. Eric Brandt, a cardiovascular disease fellow at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.
One previous estimate, from 2009, predicted that nearly eliminating trans fat from people's diets could prevent between 6 and 19 percent of heart disease hospitalizations.
However, the limitations on trans fat that the researchers looked at in this new study are not entirely comprehensive, Brandt told Live Science. The restrictions apply to trans fat in New York restaurants, bakeries, cafeterias, caterers, senior-meal programs and other food-service locations, but they do not apply to food sold in grocery stores, he said.
The decline in cardiovascular events observed in this study is promising, and suggests that similar if not greater decreases in heart attack and stroke rates could be seen when the Food and Drug Administration's nationwide restriction on trans fat goes into effect in 2018, Brandt said.
The FDA restrictions on trans fat will prevent manufacturers and food preparers from using partially hydrogenated oils, which contain these unhealthy fats, in foods. These measures will nearly eliminate trans fat in grocery stores and will ban them from eateries across the country.
Although food companies have been gradually eliminating trans fat from their products in preparation for the FDA's ban, partially hydrogenated oils are still a part of people's diets. The oils are found in baked goods, fried foods, yeast breads, chips, crackers and margarine, the study authors wrote.
Studies have suggested that people with higher levels of trans fat in their diets are at greater risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease. [7 Things That May Raise Your Risk of Stroke]
Heart health benefits
New York City first introduced restrictions on trans fat in eating establishments in July 2007, and similar actions were initiated in 11 counties in New York state between 2007 and 2011.
In the study, the researchers analyzed data on hospital admission rates for heart attacks and stroke over an 11-year period, from 2002 to 2013. The study period covered about five years before and after the restrictions took effect. The researchers compared the hospitalization rates for heart attacks and stroke in adults ages 25 and older in the 11 New York counties with restrictions on trans fat, with the hospitalization rates for these cardiovascular problems in 25 New York counties without restrictions.
Rates of heart attack and stroke were already declining in New York state before the trans fat restrictions, the study authors noted. However, after 2006, the analysis found that populations in counties with the ban experienced additional declines beyond what would have been expected based on the existing downward trends.
The study found that declines in heart attacks and strokes within the areas of the ban became apparent three or more years after trans fat was restricted in the county's eateries.
It usually takes a few years for this kind of dietary modification to reduce cardiovascular disease risk enough to be measurable, Brandt said. [5 Surprising Ways to Be Heart Healthy]
He expects that when the FDA restrictions on trans fat get implemented next year on all foods, a continued decline in heart attacks and strokes will be seen in the New York counties that had already limited the use of these fats in restaurants.
There are likely to be further measurable differences in heart attack and stroke rates, especially among younger age groups, who may benefit by spending an even longer portion of their lives without trans fat in their diets, Brandt said.
Although it may be costly for food companies to reformulate their products to eliminate trans fat, this data suggests that by restricting trans fat in foods, there is a potential to improve the health of Americans and lessen the burden of cardiovascular disease, Brandt said.
Originally published on Live Science.