Academy Applauds FDA Ban of Artificial Trans Fats

June 17, 2015 02:31 pm News Staff
[Pile of greasy pepperoni pizza, burgars and french fries]

The AAFP recently congratulated the FDA for its bold move aimed at preventing thousands of fatal heart attacks each year for the foreseeable future. Specifically, the agency announced it will ban partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary source of artificial trans fatty acids -- commonly known as trans fats -- in processed foods. It's a cause the Academy has championed for years.

Based on a thorough review of available scientific evidence, the FDA found that trans fats are not "generally recognized as safe" -- known as "GRAS" in the agency's jargon -- for use in human food, according to a June 16 news release.(www.fda.gov) Food manufactures now have three years to remove PHOs from their products.

"The FDA's action on this major source of artificial trans fat demonstrates the agency's commitment to the heart health of all Americans," said FDA Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, M.D., in the news release.

Story highlights
  • The FDA has announced it will ban partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary source of artificial trans fatty acids -- commonly known as trans fats -- in processed foods.
  • Based on a thorough review of available scientific evidence, the FDA found that trans fats are not "generally recognized as safe" for use in human food.
  • Food manufacturers now have three years to remove PHOs from their products.

Agency officials originally determined that PHOs could no longer be considered GRAS in 2013 and are now acting after a review of public comments on the issue.

AAFP Sees Its Efforts Realized

The AAFP strongly supports the FDA's action on banning trans fats and has long advocated their removal from American diets, including in a December 2013 comment letter(2 page PDF) sent to FDA Assistant Commissioner for Policy Leslie Kux. In that letter, (then) AAFP Board Chair Jeff Cain, M.D., of Denver, highlighted the Academy's review of the FDA's evidence at the time, saying that the Member Advisory Panel for the Academy's Americans in Motion-Healthy Interventions initiative found that PHOs:

  • contribute to obesity in both children and adults;
  • have adverse effects on blood cholesterol levels;
  • put patients at risk for coronary heart disease; and
  • contribute to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

In a June 17 statement on the current announcement, AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., said, "For years, the medical, scientific and public health communities have rallied against trans fats. And yet, I can still walk into my local grocery store and spot 'foods' that are rich in trans fats. I'm not talking about obscure, hard-to-find items. I’m talking about the foods that Americans consume every day, from frozen pizza to margarine to coffee creamer.

"As a family physician, I'm relieved to know that the FDA has taken action on this issue. This is a major step forward in the fight for better public health."

Background on FDA Regulation of Trans Fat

Since 2006, the FDA has required manufacturers to include trans fat content information in the Nutrition Facts label on foods. And between 2003 and 2012, the agency estimates that trans fat consumption in the United States decreased by about 78 percent. The agency attributes that feat in large part to its labeling rule, which it says helped inform consumers to make healthier choices and led to manufacturers reducing trans fats in their foods.

The FDA said that many companies have already begun working to remove PHOs from their processed foods, and it anticipates that many may eliminate them ahead of the three-year compliance date, according to the news release.

The compliance period allows companies time to either reformulate their products without PHOs and/or petition the FDA to permit specific uses of PHOs. After the compliance deadline, no PHOs can be added to human food unless they are otherwise approved by the FDA.

Family physicians might note to their patients that the FDA encourages consumers who seek to reduce trans fat intake to check a product's ingredient list to determine whether it contains PHOs.

Also, until the compliance deadline, manufactures are still allowed to label products as having "0" grams trans fat if they contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, including PHOs.

Related AAFP News Coverage
AAFP Supports FDA Proposal to Reclassify Trans Fats as Food Additives
If Finalized, Agency's Action Would Prompt Wholesale Product Reformulations
(12/31/2013)