Big Drop in Americans' Blood Levels of Trans Fats, CDC Says

New findings focus on whites but studies on other groups underway

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 8, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Trans fat levels in the blood of white adults in the United States fell by 58 percent between 2000 and 2009, which should help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in the nation, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study says.

The findings suggest that public health initiatives to increase consumer awareness about the danger that trans fats pose to heart health and to help people reduce their consumption of trans fats have been effective, according to the researchers.

They analyzed data from white adults who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2000 to 2009. Their goal was to examine trans fat blood levels before and after the 2006 implementation of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration law requiring food and some dietary supplement makers to list the amount of trans fats on the Nutrition Facts panels of the product label.

During the study period, some local and state health departments worked to force restaurants to limit their use of trans fats in food and to boost campaigns about the health risks of trans fats.

"The 58 percent decline shows substantial progress that should help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults," Christopher Portier, director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, said in an agency news release.

"Findings from the CDC study demonstrate the effectiveness of these efforts in reducing blood [trans fats] and highlight that further reductions in the levels of trans fats must remain an important public health goal," he added.

Dr. Howard Weintraub, clinical director of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at NYU Langone Medical Center, is encouraged by the new findings.

"Trans-fats have been shown to be highly linked to atherosclerosis, the hardening and narrowing of arteries," Weintraub said. "Cities have banned trans-fats from restaurant cooking and this report shows there can be a true measurable difference from these proactive actions."

The study, published Feb. 8 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, provides information for white adults only. However, additional CDC studies are underway to examine blood trans fat levels among adults in other racial/ethnic groups, children and teens.

Foods high in trans fats include store-bought baked goods such as crackers, cookies and cakes, many fried foods and some shortenings and margarines.

Unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not necessary for people and do not promote good health, according to the CDC. High consumption of trans fats increases levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol, which boosts the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Another expert also weighed in on the findings.

"With the direct effect of trans-fatty acids on the increase in LDL, which is the cholesterol leading to heart disease, this FDA initiative clearly had significant benefits on public health outcomes," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

But problems with the American diet are still far from solved, Weintraub warned.

"The new CDC report shows that people are concerned about trans-fats, since a nearly 60 percent decrease is really impressive," Weintraub said. "But Americans are still getting fatter and diabetes is getting higher. We shouldn't feel we have these epidemics beat because trans-fats are down."

More information

The American Heart Association has more about trans fats.

SOURCES: Howard S. Weintraub, M.D., clinical director, Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., preventive cardiologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Feb. 8, 2012
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