restaurants may soon have to find a way to cut artificial trans fats from French fries, onion rings, popcorn shrimp, pies, cakes and fried chicken.
Legislation that passed the Illinois House on Wednesday would ban artery-clogging trans fats in food served in restaurants, movie theaters, cafes and bakeries or sold in school vending machines, starting in 2013. School cafeterias would be affected in 2016. Most prepackaged food would not be covered.
If the Senate approves the bill and
signs it, Illinois will be only the second state to enact such a ban. The first was
"Health problems cost our state so much money, and if we can use prevention to keep people out of emergency rooms and keep them healthy, this is a step in that direction," said sponsoring Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-
The National Academy of Sciences says trans fats cannot be safely consumed in any amount.
Lynne Braun, a board member of the
Metro Chicago, acknowledged that food choices are personal decisions and that some critics object to government interference.
"On the other hand, the government has to pay a big share of health care costs for residents of Illinois and the public in general," said Braun, a nurse practitioner at
's Heart and Vascular Institute. "Anything we can do to help prevent chronic diseases like coronary artery disease is very important."
More than a dozen jurisdictions have enacted trans fat bans, including
. Around 50 restaurant chains have taken the fats off their menus nationally, and even global corporations such as Disney have done the same, the British Medical Journal reported.
health officials said that about 90 percent of the city's restaurants complied with the ban by November 2008, about two years after they began to phase it in.
"All of New Yorkers' favorite foods are still available, but many are healthier today," said Deputy Press Secretary Zoe Tobin.
Preliminary studies of NYC's ban have suggested that it has led to foods having healthier fatty acid profiles, according to research published in the Annals of
Banning trans fats is "a no-brainer," said
expert Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa. "Not only is there the advantage of removing a dietary toxin from the food supply, there's the added benefit of increasing the food supply's provision of healthy fats."
Restaurant associations often have opposed trans fat bans, citing the financial burden of shifting to other types of fats.
In the past, the Illinois Restaurant Association has sought to minimize the health risks posed by oils containing trans fats. But chairman Sam Toia, co-owner of the Chicago-area Leona Restaurant and Hop Haus chain, said Wednesday that "as leaders we have to think of the future, and this is the mood of the country right now."
Passing a trans fat ban would put Illinois at the forefront of the
movement, Toia said.
Julie Greenstein of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a national health advocacy group that supports trans fat labeling and bans, said trans fat-free oils and shortenings recently have become far cheaper and more abundant. "The alternatives are there," she said.
Ina Pinkney, who owns the popular American eatery Ina's in the
, was one of the first Chicago restaurateurs to eliminate trans fats from her menu, in 2006.
"At first it was like slogging through mud and very hard to find a product that everyone could afford," she said. "But then one day things changed very quickly, and it went from being nearly impossible to, 'Why doesn't everybody else do it? It's right on the shelf.'"
Artificial trans fats (also known as trans fatty acids or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) are created by pumping hydrogen into vegetable oil to make it solid. Small amounts also occur naturally in the meat and milk of ruminant animals, but it is unclear if they have the same health effects as artificial trans fats.
The fats came into wide use over the last century because of their ability to add cheap flavor, texture and shelf life to foods, especially baked goods. They have also been widely used in commercial frying.
In the early 1990s, however, scientists discovered that trans fats elevate levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduce levels of good cholesterol (HDL), while increasing the risk of
and stroke. It has also been associated with higher levels of Type 2
Most of the nation's large fast-food chains have either eliminated or pledged to phase out the fat from their menus, but three prominent holdouts are Long John Silver's, White Castle and Bob Evans, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Long John Silver's website, for instance, shows that its Alaskan pollock sandwich and popcorn shrimp snack box deliver 4.5 grams of trans fats each. Six White Castle chicken rings and three mozzarella sticks contain 4.5 and 4 grams of the fat respectively. Bob Evans' country-fried steak delivers 2 grams of trans fat per serving.
Ford said he hopes the Senate will vote on the legislation by mid-May. Sen.
, D-Chicago, has picked up sponsorship of the measure and said he expects it to pass.
Trotter passed legislation out of the Senate in 2008 that would have banned trans fats in cafeterias and vending machines in schools that participate in the state's lunch program, but that bill died in the House.
"It's a different bill, but it's certainly addressing an issue that's still a problem — that is, trans fats. This is a different General Assembly, and hopefully we can move it forward," Trotter said.
Tribune reporter Todd Wilson contributed from Springfield.