Should New York City and other communities be protecting their citizens by not letting them eat trans fats? It's an interesting question. It doesn't matter to me personally, because I don't eat that kind of stuff, but there are many who would say, hey, let me decide what is too bad for me to eat. Trans fats are just one of many substances that are bad for us, and other substances such as cigarettes and alcohol are perfectly legal. I guess that after the failure of Prohibition no one wanted to even think about banning alcohol again.
The argument for banning trans fats, instead of allowing individuals the right to harm themselves as they see fit, is that the state, or government, has an interest in keeping its people healthy because the state pays for much of the medical care of people. To the state, fewer trans fats means fewer Medicare payments for heart attacks and bypass surgery and so on. It's sort of like the old argument about whether the state can require motorcycle riders to wear helmets or not. Motorcyclists want to let their hair blow free; the state wants to pay less for rehabilitation of people with head injuries.
I'm pretty certain we won't come to consensus in this post or its comments about what is the right thing here, but if we're talking about banning bad foods, I think we really have to look at super sized soft drinks. When I was a kid, if you went to a hamburger joint and ordered a large Coke, you would get maybe a 16 ounce drink. Now a large must contain well over 20 ounces, and if you "biggie size" your order, the drink could serve a small family by itself. And let's not even talk about the Big Gulp from 7-elevens. How big are those things, anyway? 32 ounces? 48? Considering that a 12 ounce can of pop has the equivalent of about 14 teaspoons of sugar in it, soft drinks must be a huge contributor to the nearly endemic obesity occurring now. Fats get a lot of the attention when we talk about obesity, but these huge amounts of simple carbohydrates can be just as bad.
Personally, I don't mind it if the government bans trans fats or soft drinks in schools or sets maximum sizes for servings of pop, because we humans have shown time and again that rather than take care of ourselves, we would prefer to eat, drink, and smoke ourselves to death. But let me leave you with one final thought. If the government bans trans fats and saves money because of lower costs for cardiovascular care, won't it just have to spend more money on Social Security for the people who are living longer, and then eventually even more money on whatever disease they die from instead of heart disease, like maybe cancer? Just wondering....
P.S. Check out the latest Pediatric Grand Rounds.