December 9, 2006

What I think is really going on in the war on trans fat.

William Saletan on the "war on fat":
The whole world is engulfed in a war on fat. On one side are health crusaders. On the other side are food sellers and libertarians. Lately, the health costs of obesity have prodded politicians into the war, shifting the balance of power to the crusaders.
I simply do not believe that the so-called health side is really composed of people who are solicitous about everyone else's health. I can't prove it, but my intuition is that all the strength on the "health" side of this war comes not from people who really care whether other people are healthy, but from people who don't like having to see fat people. They are concerned about their own aesthetic pleasures, and they think fat is ugly. And that argument about how much money fat people are costing us? I say it's bogus... a strategy to win more support for more restrictions. Fat people burden the taxpayers? I simply don't believe it. I'm sure fat people have various ailments they need to put up with, and some of these are going to tap into public funding -- drug benefits for blood pressure medicine, amputations, and so on. But what about the offsets? They are going to die younger. (On average. Not you, of course.) I don't trust the numbers concocted by the people who want to intrude here. Those who want to be left alone don't work hard enough at putting together their own facts. Saletan:
Purging trans fats in New York would save at least 500 lives a year and possibly 1,400, said the health department. That's more than the number saved by seat belts.
Where does that number come from? If people are dying of trans fat, won't we save on Social Security and Medicare? If fat is so fatal, why do fat people walk among us?
The instigator of the New York ban, city health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, says chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes are eclipsing infectious diseases. Most experts and politicians share that view. We already regulate restaurants for infectious disease; why not extend that scrutiny to chronic disease?
Regulate restaurants because they cause the "disease" of making people fat. That's the argument. But he's NYC's health commissioner. He must have thought this through. You remember Frieden. He's the guy who offered the explanation “This is something we hadn’t fully thought through, frankly,” when withdrawing that proposal to let people change their sex on their birth certificates, even if they hadn't had sex reassignment surgery. (Are you fat? Try the Atkins diet! It's about eating fat.) ADDED: I should add that I do realize that trans fats and the fats that will substitute for them are equally caloric, and presumably equally fattening. Saletan's piece is clear on this point, and I assumed readers would take the linked article as background and assume that I understood it. But I see from the comments that some readers think I didn't. Nevertheless, it's fair to ask why I think people are really alarmed about appearances, not health, when they back a regulation like this, considering that it's rather unlikely to make anyone thinner. I'm talking about the emotions here, not reason. I think people are buying into the theory that the food industry is nefarious and must be controlled because they see a problem and they want a villain. People support ineffective regulation all the time: they want to see something done. Look at all the people fretting about "high fructose corn syrup," with assertions that it's making everyone fat, even though, if it were banned, other, equally caloric sugars would be substituted. Yet people think there's some special problem with the stuff. They want to blame the food industry. One thing I didn't think about, however, and wish I'd put in the original post, is that plenty of fat people themselves support regulation like this. It's not just a matter of feeling alarmed about what is happening to other people. Some of this is alarm about one's own body. People cannot control their own weight, so it must be some outside force making them fat. This failure to take personal responsibility is a downward spiral. There will never be enough regulation to make people thin. After every ban, people will wolf down whatever is still legal, and then cry for more help. If you keep an honest tally of how many calories you consume, you'll see it's your own fault if you're fat. It may be a terrible fault to overcome, but it is still your fault. If you think it isn't, it will only become harder to overcome. Which may be why people are getting so fat. They've been lured into thinking that their bodies are not their own responsibility.


AllenS said...

Fat people keep our farmers and food producers employed.

Fat people 1, Transfat Nazis 0

WV: wwhfm
Meaning: It's hard to talk with a muffin in your mouth.

reader_iam said...

If people are dying of trans fat, won't we save on Social Security and Medicare

Good luck with that argument. Whatever its merit, it didn't work in another arena and it won't work here.

Because, as you say, it's not about economics, not really, and it's not about giving a rat's ass about other people. (And it's certainly not about personal autonomy, responsibility, or freedom of choice.)

You nailed it.

Ann Althouse said...

I am: I know the food companies won't go for that argument. They don't even want to say food makes you fat. They think it's your responsibility not to overeat. (They're right.)

Anyway, I always wanted the cigarette companies to make the argument that shortening lives saves money. First, it was true. And second, it might have impressed some people into not smoking.

Ron said...

Here's an interesting related article...

reader_iam said...

Don't stories pop up from time to time about the deleterious effects of stress on health, the quality of life, and ultimately on life span? All these crusaders and nannies constantly on people's backs for one thing or another cause of a lot of stress! Think of all the money it's costing us, for treatments for related to stress management, or conditions stemming from stress!

Ban the damn nannies and crusaders, I say!

Ann Althouse said...

dave: Lawyers marshall and present facts to make arguments for goals that benefit their clients, not as a way of saying what they think is true. And since lawyers know how and why to do this, they are extremely skeptical of factual assertions anyone else makes. This post of mine is a typical lawyerly insight, not unusual at all.

reader_iam said...

Children are stressful, often unaesthetic, and expensive too! Sometimes they grow up to be fat! Or pick up bad habits! Or religious! Or of dubious political affiliation!

Ban 'em. The world would be so much more aesthetically pleasing without people, period.

(And now I'm done hijacking this thread away from the interesting point you make about people's paramount concern for their own aesthetic pleasure. The timer is beeping, which means the last of the 12 dozen treats I've prepared for a holiday treat exchange this morning are done.

No transfats, but oh!--the butter and sugar and ...

Maybe I'll thrown 'em all out and take celery sticks instead. You know, to show that I care.)

reader_iam said...

Lord, my comments are a mess today (typos, actual grammar issues[!] etc.)

Must be something I ate.

Anonymous said...

Ann: The cigarette companies did make the very "death benefit" argument that you mention in Minnesota.

To your larger point, a policy of eliminating trans-fats will not have the direct effect of reducing fatness. All of the trans-fats will be replaced by yummy other kinds of fats. Therefore, your assertion that the NYC policy is really an effort of the "No Fatties" lobby is unfounded.

reader_iam said...

and that the market will never provide it

I don't believe that's true. In fact, I don't believe it has been true. When I think of foods available now, in restaurants, compared to even 25 years ago, there are lots of options. Lots of them.

For one small example, I remember when olive oil was considered an exotic ingredient, and when lard was ubiquitous, for example. Boy, has that ever changed!

Without legislation, too. Fancy that!

Anonymous said...

Allens: Fat people will still be able to provide all of the economic benefits to the nation that they always have. In fact, if the fats that replace trans fats are more expensive, or more profitable for the farmers and food producers, then NYC's policy may provide a net economic benefit even without accounting for any health cost benefits.

Anonymous said...

reader_jam: You've hit an excellent point. The fact that most snack foods producers have shifted away from trans-fats voluntarily over the last three years is a strong argument against the need for a city-wide policy in NYC. Just as restaurants have offered cholesterol free, low fat, and then low carb menu items to market to the tastes of their customers, they should be able to get some marketing benefit from advertising that they are trans-fat free as well.

KCFleming said...

I agree that health is not the issue, but I think the aesthetics of fat is also peripheral.

This is about power, and represents another skirmish in the battle between the forces defending liberty and those demanding state control over our lives. The Libertarians versus the Nanny-Statists.

National single-payer health care follows the same lines of argument. Minimum wage, Kelo, PETA, school vouchers, welfare, religion in schools, etc., etc. Where you sit on these issues can usually be guessed by where you prefer the balance of power between Individual liberty and State control.

Ann Althouse said...

amn said..."I don't really think that people go into public health because they hate ugly fat people..."

I don't disagree with that (even in the original post). But the public health leaders need to get public support for what they do, and my theory is about why they are getting the support. You're right that the trans fats are no more caloric that the fats that will replace them, so the people wanting to see fewer fat people will not get what they want from this. Nevertheless, they are swallowing the regulations because they are generally alarmed at how fat people are getting. (And it is alarming!)

Anonymous said...

Ann: It should not be too much of a stretch to see that the public costs of a short-lived unhealthy person can easily exceed the public costs of a long-lived healthy person.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this is too obvious to be worth mentioning, but I do not think it is a coincidence that this effort started in NYC. When the Mayor of the city has the leading school of public health in the country named after him (The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health), one might expect to see some major health-related policy initiatives come out of his office.

Ann Althouse said...

Triangle Man: They might, but I bet they don't. There've got to be plenty of massive heart attacks bringing the average way down on the fat death side. And think of all the money that must go to support people who live beyond the age of 75.

David said...

The tobacco companies tried to introduce evidence of cost offsets from shorter lives, but mostly the trial judges excluded that evidence. Since the settlement short-circuited the litigation, I don't think there was ever an appellate decision on that point.

JohnF said...

First, Ann said, "I always wanted the cigarette companies to make the argument that shortening lives saves money. First, it was true." In fact, in governmental/health care company cases, I think tobacco companies did use that argument.

Second, I thought the trans-fat stuff was about heart disease, not obesity. After all, substituting corn oil (not a trans-fat) for margarine isn't going to make anyone thinner, though it may help with heart disease.

Bruce Hayden said...

If they are worried about fat people or seeing fat people, then they should move somewhere where there is something to do besides eat, party, and watch shows (ok, I am being harsh).

Today, I will most likely not see anyone approaching morbid obesity, nor probably that many who are considered obese. Why? Much of my day is going to be spent on skis. And fat people just don't hang out at ski areas.

My point is not that everyone should ski, but rather that if you hang around a place where much of what there is to do is sedentary, you are going to see a lot more fat people than if you hang around places where people tend to spend their time outdoors doing non-sedentary things.

Meade said...

"And think of all the money that must go to support people who live beyond the age of 75."

Yes, the savings would be considerable. Younger workers would have more disposable income for sports cars, ski vacations, and expensive meals in fancy New York restaurants. And think of all the time saved that is now wasted on those obligatory visits and phone calls to granny and gramps?

Still, death by diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease seem like rather long cruel ways of killing them off.

Why not something quicker... like drowning, freezing, or just dropping them into vats of boiling Crisco?

Bruce Kratofil said...

When I think of current trends in healthy food, I think of Woody Allen in "Sleeper", set 200 years into the future.

-This morning for breakfast, uh, he requested something called wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger's milk.
-Oh yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life preserving properties.
-You mean there was no deep fat? No steak, or cream pies, or hot fudge?
-Those were thought to be unhealthy. Precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

I'm Full of Soup said...

Reader Iam: Your post spurred me to smother two slices of 12 grain bread in olive old instead of using my usual TGINB.

It was delicious. Thanks and Ann, this post and its comments remind me why I love your blog.

I voted this morning on my laptop at home and will vote once more at the office this afternoon. So everyone don't forget to vote for Ann early and often everyday until the 15th.

And Ann, the majority of your competition has a reminder at the top of their website.

Anonymous said...

The experts who want to eliminate trans-fats are the same experts who encouraged its widespread use in place of other fats in the name of better health, of course.

I'm not defending trans-fats. But I'm not willing to jump on a bandwagon that pretends their elimination is going to solve, or do much of anything, about the problems of obesity and heart disease. They won't. Trans-fats will be replaced by other fats. Maybe they will be better. Maybe not. No one really knows for sure. What we do know for sure is that human beings do need fat in their diet - just not as much as many people choose to consume.

The people and organizations behind efforts such as this do not believe in individual responsibility. They do believe that they know what's best and that they are qualified to make decisions about what the masses should be allowed to eat. There is little doubt in my mind that they would ban MacDonalds if they could get away with it.

(BTW, Does anyone else remember when all the supposed health experts were encouraging high-carb diets?)

Unknown said...

Ann, I agree that the statistics had to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is probably a research outfit working for a branch of either the food industry, the do-gooder industry, or the HMO industry.

The whole argument is patently fallacious. How can banning trans fats in NYC restaurants help an obese "America"? Individuals are fat, not nations. And how are they going to enforce this?

This is rank statism. Soon I expect 'acceptable' hairdos to be posted on the beauty salon walls as is done in NOrth Korea (20/20 last night).

ada47 said...

There is another way of looking at this. Regardless of the merits of removing harmful and unnecessary ingredients from food that can be made using other, less harmful ingredients, this is a decision made by a local government, that is directly responsive to popular will. When Bloomberg is up for re-election in, I'm not sure when, 2009 (sorry for not knowning that), a simple majority vote can put a pro-trans fat mayor in office, and that mayor can appoint a pro-trans fat health comissioner. Can you imagine if this were done at the fedaral level? Most people don't vote in midterm elections and most of those that do would probably not even bother to figure out how their guy or gal voted on the trans fat issue.

But our federal government, in all its wisdom, has decided to prolong the farm subsidies that keep your Big Mac and fries way cheaper than your salad, and keep trans fats in your food. Did you get to vote on that? Do you know how your guy or gal votes on farm subsidies? And if your guy or gal tried to scale down or eliminate farm subsidies for economic reasons, their opponent would run ads featuring some very sympathetic elderly farmers sitting on the porch in their rocking chairs, shaking their heads, saying "Whay does Joe Blow want to take my farm away from me? My great grandfather started this farm bla bla bla..."

Ann's speculation on the motives of the "health" folks is interesting, probably at least partly true. But its also beside the point. Lead in paint is bad. E. coli in meat is bad. Trans fat has been proven to change the LDL/HDL ratio, which is the universally accepted predictor of CHD risk. One can choose to avoid trans fat by relgioulsy reading food labels (and many people do), but in a restaurant you are at the mercy of the cook, who may or may not know whether the food they are making has trans fats in them. And its not just Fries and Pies, but pan-cooked talapia and grilled vegetables also.

As for economics, if I know that the fries at Burger King don't have trans fats in them, I'll probably eat them once in a while. I'm sure I'm not alone in this.

I understand the skepticism, and the Sleeper story. Nutrition research is often badly done or badly interpreted. Trans fats are so prevalent in part because they told us years ago that butter was bad. Of course it is, but a lot less trans fat can do a lot more damage to your blood chemistry. Moderation really doesn't help you much with trans fats.

Do you really want your kids eating this crap?

ada47 said...

Do-gooder industry?
Do tell.

Paddy O said...

Next they need to ban electricity and supermarkets. For the good of all people who sit around with their easy to prepare meals without having to do the manual labor of growing or slaughtering their food. Plus, a good full day of washin' really burns off those calories.

Just think how lean New Yorkers would be if they had to do six or seven hours of food related chores before and after work.

Supermarkets and electricity are the bane of our national health!!

Anonymous said...

I bet they can make this without trans fat!

Bleepless said...

As a diabetic, I have to keep an eye on all sorts of stuff, yet when I see "health" being made mandatory, I am offended. P.J. O'Rourke delightfully invented the term "safety Nazis." I think that it might be joined by "health Fascists." GET AWAY FROM MY DINNER PLATE, TYRANTS! I CAN DO IT MYSELF!

Harry Eagar said...

Hmmm. I hadn't thought about the aesthetic angle. As a resident of a sugar-producing state, I had always thought the motivation to proscribe food was moralistic and puritan:

Of all the things that the nannies and schoolma`ms could advise us against, they picked sugar, not because it is bad for us, but because it is pleasurable.

The campaign against 'tropical oils,' though, was a cyncial operation by the soybean business. The establishment of oil palm plantations throughout the tropics has been one of the great but unheralded successes of development since World War II.

People need fat in their diets, and until 'tropical fats' came along, most people in hot countries didn't get enough.

ada47 said...

People need fat in their diets. The same research that has established the benefit of natural fats, including a few saturated fats, has also found that trans fats are poison.

Low-fat was bad because it only considered the grams of fat in the diet, not the type of fat in the diet. Also, many commercially produced "low fat" foods have trans fats in them, and gram for gram, trans fat has a much higher impact on LDL/HDL.

I understand that many people don't want the government to regulate what they eat. But this stuff is poison. Only it takes a long time to kill you.

I can't bring myself to defend trans fats use by restaurants on libertarian grounds. Why not defend leaded gasoline? Or abolish health codes that make food service employees wash their hands after going potty? You don't have to eat in restaurants. It's your choice to take the risk.

Trans fats are not necessary. You can make pie crust and french fries without them. In fact, stuff tastes better without them.

GPE said...

So, weighing in on this post...

I freely admit I find fat people unattractive, but I don't support nanny legislation aimed at controlling what people eat. Rather, I'd like to see, for lack of a better phrase, tribal pressures which encourage people to take care of their health on their own initiative. Granted, a percentage of overweight people cannot control their weight. I favor safeguards for people who can establish medical reasons for their misfortune. But I'm referring to the majority of overweight people who are making a choice, for what ever conscious or unconscious reason, not to take care off their physical health. If they choose a poor diet, I'm going to choose not to associate with them. I'd even like the choice not to hire them. Is it really a disability if they make poor eating and exercise decisions? Wouldn't that be an "acquired disability?" It opens all manner of possibilities for attaining victim status.

I, too, am skeptical about much of what gets reported. Un-referenced statistics in a news article are a red flag and such reports score low on the credibility scale. My personal experience, however, factors prominently in what I think about people who are overweight due to poor eating and exercise habits. They miss work due to back and knee problems in addition to work missed due to the usual colds and flu. This costs me. They physically cannot do what a normally fit person can, which means that others must do that for them. When I'm asked, for example, to move a box by someone who cannot because they have a bad back due to being overweight, I move the box. But I tend to avoid that person in the future because I don't wish to be the surrogate healthy body for that person when their past culinary pleasures become present constraints.

Dave: Would that all the medical malpractice lawyers would be more skeptical of the statistics proferred as evidence of malfeasance.

I was the plaintiff in a medmal suit, which we won, and learned a lot about the role of fact in such cases. The defense pushed hard with the facts and statistics and I believe this didn't help them. What they presented applied to large populations. What the jury saw was one patient who was seriously harmed by one arrogant, egotistical and sloppy doctor.

I also learned that in a medmal suit, the battle isn't about the truth. Each side works to present a set of facts carefully designed to support their respective client's case. They also work to exclude the other side from presenting facts which may damage their case. It isn't rocket science where if all the facts aren't considered something blows up. In court, much gets filtered in the interests of strategy and tactics. Two things helped us more than the "facts." The smug and flippant attitude of the doctor came across very clearly on the stand and we had the better lawyer.

reader_iam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Wow; so much information, so little space.

When I see that Trans Fat kills twice as many people yearly I have two thoughts: 1) this probably is a factoid- looks like a fact, sounds like a fact, but probably is a statistic made up to try and influence an argument; and 2) if the government is now going after fats because they are the BIG killer, does this mean I can now drive without a seat belt?

In my opinion the government is at best an advisor, not a nanny. They can advise me to stop smoking, eat less fat and to wear a seatbelt, but cannot force me to do or not to do any of these things. Where did they get the idea that they could?

Oh yeah- non-smoking areas in airplanes. The evil foot in the door of nanny government. Or was it the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966- the one that mandated seatbelts in automobiles in the first place (before that they were an option)? Another big government issue to thank LBJ for!

Or was it the Social Security Act of 1933? Or does it go back to 1919 and Prohibition? Or perhaps Teddy Roosevelt and the pure Food and Drug Act?

All of these acts (and amendment) passed because they were for the “GOOD” of the people. Never mind that (in my opinion) the Constitution guarantees me the right to be stupid if I so wish.

The government (all branches and levels, from the city to the Feds) can let me know that products from a certain manufacturer are impure; that consuming alcohol is detrimental to my health; that saving money for my retirement is a good idea and that having a seatbelt or airbag in my car is a good idea, but CANNOT mandate an of these things.

What will we all do when New York City mandates that all citizens will walk at least a mile a day, and enforce it by mandating you cannot catch a bus or cab or access the subway within a mile of you home? People laughed at the idea that they could ban alcohol to, in 1918.

Anonymous said...

The New York law is overkill. You could simply require separate sections in restaurants -- one side for attractive people, and one side for fat, ugly people. They've been doing that in Los Angeles for years, and it works great.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Regulate restaurants because they cause the "disease" of making people fat.

No, the fatty foods cause fatness, which causes disease. The link is so strong that extreme fatness is considered itself a disease. It's called obesity. We're not talking about slightly overweight people.

And we don't count the savings of people dying from preventable diseases as a benefit because that's fucking sick.

Ann Althouse said...

Dean: So the new rule is that processed food isn't food? Suddenly, it's poison because labs and chemists got involved? At the end of this slippery slope we'll be stuck eating only raw organic food.

Mortimer: "And we don't count the savings of people dying from preventable diseases as a benefit because that's fucking sick."

You're missing the point, and reasoning through hysteria. The point was that those who want the ban are winning support by making arguments about economics that don't seem to be true. There does remain a question whether we out to act to save people from the consequences of their own choices. If I say we shouldn't, that doesn't mean I don't care if people suffer and die. Those who go in big for controlling individuals sure do love to compliment themselves for their humanity.

Jeff Faria said...

"I simply do not believe that the so-called health side is really composed of people who are solicitous about everyone else's health. I can't prove it..."

That's right - you can't prove it, and you should have shown a little discipline and integrity rather than write yourself a license to spew allegations. Hey, I can't prove it, but my intuition tells me that Ann Althouse runs a sweatshop on the side, has sex with minors, is poisoning the environment, and steals from her employer.

You're also looking in the wrong place. Not only don't people's mixed motivations for doing things matter (we ALL have them - this means, you too), they are unprovable and rarely are they legally actionable. The right place to look is in economic motivation. That IS demonstrable in court, and actionable. So, is someone with an economic stake in the elimination of trans fat secretly funding the movement to eliminate it? That would be worth discussing.

Meanwhile, perhaps you'd like to crusade to put the lead back in gasoline, since your infallible instincts tell you that the real motivation behind THAT legislation was liberals' hatred of oil companies.

This is the problem with people who get regular Insta-traffic: They think any fool idea of theirs is worth broadcasting.

Unknown said...


How about these folks, who were mentioned in the article?
The article mentioned that these "experts" influenced their decision. They are supported by grants and I would imagine our tax dollars--and I'm sure their "experts" are well compensated.

They advocate for legislative change according to their beliefs. IOW, they tell our elected officials what to do, bypassing us, the electorate, entirely.

Jeff Faria said...

Amen to Dean Esmay, by the way. I remember this same 'libertarian' argument against the 'Nazis' in NYC government who were going to ban smoking in public bars and restaurants a short time ago. Now, Bloomberg is a hero for championing it, and hallelujah.

Cigarettes are poison. Lead is poison. Transfat is poison. Ridding the public environment of them (I don't want to ask my waiter EVERY TIME I EAT OUT if my order contains trans fat, OK? He may not know. No one may know.) is, as Esmay correctly points out, GOOD PUBLIC POLICY.

Honest to God what an idiotic post.

Anonymous said...

The purpose of banning trans fats is enable people to have longer and healthier lives.

Married people live longer and healthier than singles so the government should ban divorce and mandate all singles get hitched.

Republicans live longer and healthier than Democrats so the government should ban the Democratic Party and provide every citizen with a membership in the Republican Party.

People who drink moderately live longer and healthier than teatotallers and heavy drinkers so ...

kentuckyliz said...

Trans fats are dangerous for everyone, not just fat people.

If this were about fat people, Bloomberg would have regulated the number of kcalories restaurants could serve! He would have eliminated vending machines and bakeries and the nice sweet things at Starbucks. Isn't NYC into fashionable cupcakes nowadays?

To me, what is odd is that New York City is pretending to be the FDA. If trans fats are truly dangerous for everyone, why isn't the FDA taking action and not just leaving it up to various urban governments?

A good explanation in plain English about trans fats can be found...Walter Willett, Harvard School of Public Health, nutrition section. I learned about the chemistry of it this summer but that's too technical for most folks.

I was trans fat free before trans fat free was cool. LOL

kentuckyliz said...

the pooka said, But wait! TFs take the fatties out of the gene pool!

Who said they didn't pop out offspring first? Maybe that's how they got started on the path to obesity...couldn't lose the baby weight.

See, TFs don't kill you fast enough; it's not ebola. They take a long time to kill. Plenty o' time to knock out a few babies.

BTW...pomegranates (fruit, juice, pills) suck the plaque out of your arteries. Thought I'd share this for the use of anyone who might have a concern in this area.

GT said...


My response, if you're interested:

altoids1306 said...

From William Saletan's article:

Every restaurant association that testified against New York's ban pointed out that on aggregate, if not ounce for ounce, saturated fats are more harmful than trans fats. This was supposed to be an argument against the ban. But once you accept the ban, it becomes an argument for targeting saturated fats, too.

This man is a complete idiot. Ban saturated fats? You want to ban meat? Good luck. Saletan, meet reality.

And that argument about how much money fat people are costing us? I say it's bogus...

Well, if we privatize Medicare and Social Security, we'll find out, won't we?

Joe said...

A single study found a very weak correlation between trans fat and blood lipid levels. A handful of other studies have found very weak correlations to trans-fat and heart disease, though many other studies have found no such correlations.

This isn't about science, or health. It's about power and money.

(Trans fats are not a recent invention; they have, in fact, been around for almost a hundred years. If they were poison, as some assert, there would be volumes of evidence for this. There simply isn't.

I predict that whatever alternatives to trans-fat that companies in New York City, or elsewhere, come up with will, in short order, be attacked as unhealthy, with accompanying "scientific studies" [which end up showing no such thing.])

Mortimer Brezny said...

Mortimer: "And we don't count the savings of people dying from preventable diseases as a benefit because that's fucking sick."

Ann: You're missing the point, and reasoning through hysteria. The point was that those who want the ban are winning support by making arguments about economics that don't seem to be true. There does remain a question whether we out[sic] to act to save people from the consequences of their own choices. If I say we shouldn't, that doesn't mean I don't care if people suffer and die. Those who go in big for controlling individuals sure do love to compliment themselves for their humanity.

If I were to call your argument hysterical, I'd have to endure a feminist rant about the herstory of medicine and photos of vaginas with chompers, so hurling that straw-woman in front of the train tracks is a bit hypocritical. Not to mention inconsistent, especially since male doctors who called women hysterical for expressing legitimate concerns about their health were the ones suppressing autonomy. But to continue my train of thought...

The proponents of the polio vaccine think that public health is important. If people are vaccinated, they will be healthier and will be alive to exercise their autonomy. And public health costs go down, because the polio vaccine is cheaper than footing the bill for a nation of polio sufferers and the loss to productivity that results. The pro-health argument is pro-life, pro-autonomy, and pro-savings, whether it advocates in favor of a polio vaccine or a trans-fats ban.

Your argument, on the other hand, is anti-autonomy, anti-life, and questionably pro-savings. It is anti-autonomy because dead people cannot exercise autonomy. It is anti-life because it opposes taking reasonable preventive steps that we know beat back death. And its savings component is spurious because dead people are not productive and incredibly obese and diseased people are not as productive as they would otherwise be. There is no guarantee that the deadweight loss will outweigh the savings in pension plans and so forth.

It seems you would oppose the polio vaccine because it raises average longevity. My reply to that -- "that's sick!" -- is not hysteria: it's noting that some arguments should be out-of-bounds in public discourse. Not healing people because letting them die makes moolah is the rationale of a particularly nasty HMO. Most people find that morally repugnant; are most people hysterical?

paul a'barge said...

Atkins is about eating protein, not fat.

Robin St. John said...

I am a chemist that used to work in food industry making hydrogenated oils. There was a lot of buzz 10 years ago- the studies had been appearing that said trans-fat is dangerous, and we were thinking about how to make hydrogenated oil without producing trans fats. I won't bore you with the chemistry, but the trans forms of fats are lower in energy and are thermodynamically favored when and if the fat molecules rearrange, so it is a challenge to hydrogenate oils without having them do this. It's like rolling down hill.

We figured out a handful of ways to do it. Some were too expensive, some used used catalysts that we feared might be dangerous. Ultimately we figured out how to use just the right conditions. And so you can hydrogenate oils without producing trans fats. It takes control and finesse, but even these things are eventually easy and cheap.

Some companies (Monsanto comes to mind) genetically engineered soybeans to produce more saturated fat (hydrogenation converts unsaturated fats to saturated fats.) We could get shortening-type fat by cooling the oil and collecting the crystals that fell out. There are lots of political issues with GMOs too, but the processes are all natural, if you don't mind genetic modification. People do, though, and I'm not sure where this went.

My point is that we were all over this even though most people in the industry were skeptical that there would be strong evidence that trans fats are harmful, as soon as the first indications of trouble started. It was worth it to have these techniques in reserve if the political winds started blowing against trans fats. It cost more, at first, and there is not much profit in vegetable oil and shortening to begin with, a few cents a pound for the producer. But if people want it, and now it can be done without charging too much of a premium.

I left the edible oil industry and work in R and D far away from food now, but I think the market worked pretty well at the source end of the production stream. I am uncertain whether trans fats are all that bad or not- but I know that it is unecessary to consume them, and I don't, and my family doesn't.

Dave said...

On the Atkins diet, you're eating almost pure protein and fat. You can consume red meat, fish (including shellfish), fowl, and regular cheese (not "diet" cheese, cheese spreads, or whey cheeses). You can cook with butter, have mayo with your tuna, and put olive oil on your salads.
On the other hand, carbs are restricted

A great diet, btw. Not only did I lost weight, but all my lipid profiles improved and my blood sugar dropped dramatically.

Jim said...

Uh, Ann, I think what's really going on is that trans fats are unnatural, unnecessary, and terribly unhealthy. It's like if the government decided to start putting tiny amounts of cyanide in the water supply and you said that they shouldn't stop just because liberal nanny-staters don't like seeing people with paralyzed limbs.

Jeff Faria said...

"I don't particularly like the smoking bans, although I always supported regulations requiring restaurants to have aggressive ventilation and other things to keep it away from those who find it offensive." (Dean Esmay)

I agree, I would have preferred another solution. But here again where pragmatism comes into play. NYC bars and eateries come in all shapes and sizes, accomodating anywhere from a dozen to several hundred patrons. Most of them are at the smaller end of the scale, and asking them to have TRULY non-smoking areas (i.e., not just no one smoking in them, but no smoke in them at all) was impractical and impossible (if that's not redundant). Bloombarg either had to have no restrictions, or complete restrictions. He made the right choice.

I was on another blog with another version of this absurd argument. This one went on about the 'government Nazis' restricting cel phone use in cars. 'Who has the right to tell me what I can do in my own car?' They bellowed. 'What about all the moms dealing with screaming kids and putting on makeup in cars? Are they next?' Fact is, cel phones became a target because it's a straightforward rule to enforce - either you are using a cel phone or you're not. This gives cops a tool to use to stop a car and insure that the driver is paying proper attention.

As far as what right the government has to stop a distracted driver from his/herself: None, if you like. But what about protecting those screaming kids in the back? What about protecting ME from that driver? The 'libertarians' beating their breasts over this have forgotten that their rights don't include depriving someone else of their life.

In terms of trans fats, Bloomberg's rule will join a host of other health regulations governing restaurants. All of which the risible Althouse should want to repeal as well. After all, the marketplace is perfectly capable of sorting out which restaurants give their customers salmonella and which do not. And if it takes a customer 20 years to discover that an eatery (by now (s)he doesn't know which one) has given him/her intestinal cancer, well, that too is the marketplace in action. True libertarians eat at home, growing their own food just to make sure.

altoids1306 said...


Thanks for your post. Expert opinion is one of the few reasons I read blogs.

Mortimer Brezny said...

True libertarians eat at home, growing their own food just to make sure.

Not after Raich. Right, Simon?

KCFleming said...

Esmay and Brezny miss the larger point while scoring small ones.

1. Saying "this stuff is poison" is argument by hysteria. Trans fat is not poison by any scientific understanding of that word. At most it can be considered "not good for you in daily use", but it cannot be argued that eating out once per week and consuming trans fat is unhealthy, because know one knows this or will ever know it.

2. The NYC government could just as easily have required the foods containing trans fat to label them as such in menus. Unintrusive, and it permits the market to decide whether or not people want this as a health benefit all, none, or some of the time.

3. Nanny staters do not want people to have a choice, they want to decide this is best for you, because I know better. They have also decided for us that longevity is a public good, beyond individual preference. I don't remember acquiescing that choice to the State. Do you? Too late.

4. Once the State can control what you eat "because it's unhealthy", what is to stop them from banning "unhealthy" recreation that has a high accident rate (e.g skateboarding), or seeing certain movies (too violent), or reading certain books ('promotes unhealthy lifestyles')? Well, there is no way to prevent it. (In England, it's now been declared mandatory that parents sing certain lullabies to their kids, or face punishment by the State. I kid you not.)

5. Sorry Mortimer, but discussion of the economics of saving lives is not out of bounds or merely done by HMOs. The beloved NHS and Canada's Medicare calculate this all the time when deciding for their citizens which therapies would be available. You are being hysterical.

KCFleming said...

The nursery rhyme police - parents to take lessons in reading and singing
This Is

Parents could be forced to go to special classes to learn to sing their children nursery rhymes, a minister said.

Those who fail to read stories or sing to their youngsters threaten their children's future and the state must put them right, Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said.

Their children's well-being is at risk 'unless we act', she declared.

And Mrs Hughes said the state would train a new 'parenting workforce' to ensure parents who fail to do their duty with nursery rhymes are found and 'supported'.

figleaf said...

Geez, Ann, you're as lazy as Glenn.

The proposal was to *replace* trans-fats with ordinarily hydrogenated ones, not eliminate fat at all.

I think you saw this as an opportunity to thump the nanny state (which, in this case exists only between your ears) and then, further compromising your conservative integrity you lazily lit upon... prejudice against fat people as the purported reason for the NYC decision?


If that was really what you were worried about cheer up! There'll still be lots of fat people in NYC after the trans-fat ban. There'll just be somewhat fewer fat people having heart attacks on the city's social-services dime.

(To further insult your self-inflicted injury, Dr. Atkins correctly advocated drinking lard lattés and smoking bacon cigarettes as a great way to lose weight but he believed trans fats were unhealthy and advised dieters to avoid it. I bring this up because you cited the guy so he's your authority.)

Ann Althouse said...

figleaf: "The proposal was to *replace* trans-fats with ordinarily hydrogenated ones, not eliminate fat at all."

Well, since I didn't say that, your tirade is idiotic.

Robin St. John said...

Another minor scientific point- it is not true that trans fats are unnatural. A bit less than 10% of the fat in butter, for instance, is trans fat. It is believed to be produced when bacteria metabolize fatty acids in the digestive tracts of cows- it is a natural hydrogenation process- and so trans fats show up in milk and other dairy products.

There is reason to believe that humans have been exposed to some trans fats for a long time, and probably can handle small amounts.

I don't mean to imply that butter's trans-fats are identical to those in, for instance, hydrogenated soybean oil. The lipid profiles in soybeans and grass are different, and the hydrogenation conditions are vastly different. It just isn't the case, however, that trans fats don't occur in nature.

It is a point that generally needs to be made: one need not be hyperbolic (e.g. "trans fats are poison") to make the important policy arguments about the wisdom of consuming industrially produced trans fats. Sometimes, accuracy is sacrificed on the altar of advocacy. As I see it, this causes both science and policy unnecessary damage.

Anonymous said...

What is known: HDL causes plaques on artery walls. People with higher LDL but the same HDL have less plaque.

NO ONE knows how LDL reduces plaque formation. It is correlation, not causation.

Anonymous said...

opps new to this the rest of my post:

Other way around! OTHER WAY AROUND! HDL reduces plaque LDL increase it and YES we do know why it lowers total cholesterol, it bloody test I’m taking tomorrow. HDL has high amount of AP A-I protein which remove cholesterol from tissue as well as several other protein which help metabolize cholesterol. LDL is mostly apo-B100 which promotes the formation of plaque. There is your biochemical evidence of causation.

People get a grip on reality. Restaurant do not have a inalienable right to serve trans-fats you do not have an inalienable right to consume trans-fats. These types of legislation do not in any legal way violate you rights, legally they must simply prove it is rational for the ban to exist. Which brings me to:

e.g skateboarding), or seeing certain movies (too violent), or reading certain books ('promotes unhealthy lifestyles')?

Skateboarding- nothing
Movies and books- the bill of rights
Can’t see the difference let me give a brief legal lesion, this law and skate boarding are not issues invoking the constitutional rights and fall under rational scrutiny movies and book fall under strict scrutiny the two levels of scrutiny do not set precedent for each other, to suggest this we lead to book banning ignores how the legal system is deign and makes your argument look silly to those who understand how the legal system works.

Also, the FDA has banned safer substance with less evidenced before no one made uproar about those. (Mainly because they were products that the lobby of powerful industries did want see hitting the market) Is this the best use of the city researches, No there much better way to improve the health of it citizens but some time you have to take what you can get.

“A single study found a very weak correlation between trans fat and blood lipid levels. A handful of other studies have found very weak correlations to trans-fat and heart disease, though many other studies have found no such correlations.”

Wrong their have been many studies that have found a strong correlation between trans and coronary heart and very few have found in non link as you say, I fact I have only found a single study in my 3 year studying undergraduate nutrition that even begins to the refute the damage trans fats do. In fact I have an exam covering cardo. dz. tomorrow please do inform me of how every nutrition textbook in print is wrong.

Note: this is written by a student this does not constitute nutritional advice if you need help with diet consulate a registered dietician.