Following the New York City Board of Health's unanimous decision to phase trans fats off the city's restaurant menus, experts say the move could be an important step in saving many people from heart disease.
Restaurateurs and others, however, say the decision could have a devastating impact on New York's restaurant industry, and it might not even make restaurant food that much healthier.
The measure, first proposed on Sept. 26, will take effect July 1. By this date, restaurants will be barred from using most frying oils that contain artificial trans fats. And by July 1, 2008, they will have to eliminate artificial trans fats from all their foods.
Experts believe trans fats cause harm because they raise "bad" LDL cholesterol and lower "good" HDL cholesterol. This combination has been found to contribute to heart disease -- perhaps even more so than saturated fats.
"This is one of the most important actions taken by a city or state health department in many years," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., adding that the measure should be adopted by other cities and states.
"The trans-fat ban will save thousands of lives over the next decade."
"This is one of the most important pieces of health legislation this decade," says Lori Mosca, associate professor of medicine at Columbia University. "It has the potential to affect millions of people to reduce their exposure to an unnecessary substance that is known to increase the risk of heart disease."
"New York City has taken a major step forward to protect the health of everyone who lives or visits there," says Dr. Walter Willett, professor and chairman of the Harvard School of Public Health. "Hopefully, the rest of the nation will follow."
"This is a good idea," says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Trans fat is not a necessity, and there are suitable substitutes."
"Well-known, highly quoted epidemiologic studies confirm that trans fats are by far and away the worst type of fat that can be ingested," says Dr. Christine Lawless, director of the section of preventive and sports cardiology at the Ohio State University Medical Center.
"These fats are far more atherogenic -- more likely to cause arteries to clog -- than any other type of saturated fat."
"Some opponents of this ban have characterized this as 'big brother in the kitchen,'" says Meir Stampfer, professor and chairman of the Harvard School of Health's department of epidemiology.
"To those I would ask, 'Do you oppose the regulations requiring employees to wash their hands? Do you oppose regulations limiting pesticide residue in food?'"
Stampfer adds that consumers probably will not even notice the absence of trans fats.
"This ban does not ban any food item, and its implementation will likely be virtually invisible to consumers," Stampfer says. "It bans an industrially produced artificial ingredient in the food supply that responsible manufacturers should have taken out themselves long ago."
Perhaps it is appropriate that the anti-trans-fat revolution, if it ignites, will have its roots in New York City. In this metropolis of nearly 19 million, heart disease is the No.1 killer.