Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates blood levels of trans fatty acids in U.S. white adults dropped by 58 percent from 2000 to 2009 — a decrease being hailed as huge public health progress.


The CDC study, published as a letter Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at trans fat levels in people before and after the 2006 Food and Drug Administration mandate requiring trans fat amounts to be listed on Nutrition Facts food labels.

Even before that rule was imposed, the prospect of FDA action and heightened publicity about the risk of heart disease from trans fat spurred a switch to healthier oils.  The CDC study sought to determine the effect of government regulation and those other moves.

Christopher Portier, director of CDC′s National Center for Environmental Health said all the efforts were effective “in reducing blood TFAs (trans fatty acids) and highlight that further reductions in the levels of trans fats must remain an important public health goal.”

“Credit for the reductions in trans fat is shared by many parties,” noted a news release from Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI has petitioned the FDA over trans fat, and also sued restaurants chains that were frying foods in partially hydrogenated oil.  “New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, California, Montgomery County, MD, and other jurisdictions banned most artificial trans fat from restaurant food.

“The FDA helped greatly by requiring that trans fat be listed on Nutrition Facts labels.  And oil processors, seed developers, and farmers worked hard to produce and market healthier oils for restaurants and food manufacturers to use,” said Jacobson, adding that the dramatic drop  in trans fat levels in people “represents enormous public health progress and is almost certainly preventing thousands of heart attacks and premature deaths each year.”

CSPI says more must be done. In urging the FDA to ban partially hydrogenated oil — a major source of trans fat — it has highlighted the foods still loaded with trans fat. It observes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has jurisdiction over foods with meat or poultry such as pot pies, has not adopted the FDA’s trans fat labeling rule.

Unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not essential to human health and do not promote good health. High consumption of trans-fatty acids is linked to cardiovascular disease in part because TFAs increase LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), the CDC says. Changing to a diet low in TFAs may lower LDL cholesterol levels, thus decreasing the risk for cardiovascular disease.

To avoid trans fat in one’s diet, the CDC recommends:

Looking for the trans fat listing on the Nutrition Facts label. Comparing brands and choosing the one lowest in trans fat, preferably with no trans fat. 

Replacing margarine containing trans fat with unsaturated vegetable oil. 

If you use margarine, choose a soft margarine spread instead of stick margarine. Check your labels to be sure the soft margarine does contain less trans fat. If possible, find one that says zero grams of trans fat.

While the current study looked only at white adults, CDC researchers are also looking at blood TFAs in other adult race/ethnic groups, children and adolescents, Portier said. The trans fat research is a part of a larger National Biomonitoring program, which measures more than 450 environmental chemicals and nutritional indicators in people.