Friday, February 02, 2007

Los Angeles catches the Trans fat bug

Los Angeles County's 34,000 restaurants will be encouraged over the next 18 months to stop using trans fat under an incentive program announced Tuesday by city and county officials. Under the program, Los Angeles County restaurants that voluntarily stop using the partially hydrogenated oil will receive a decal that can be posted at the establishment based on certification by the Health Department. Health officials also plan to convene a task force to educate the public on the harmful effects of the substance, and instruct eateries in county buildings to limit the trans fat in food.

County officials had hoped to regulate whether eateries use trans fat, but a report by the Department of Public Health found only the state can regulate what eateries cook with. "We have to protect the citizens of Los Angeles County," said Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke. "They depend upon our public health facilities, they depend upon our ability to look at restaurants to make sure those restaurants are clean, but they also depend on us to develop the kind of guidelines that will ensure that when you go into a facility ... you know what you're buying."

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to support the voluntary effort, as did the Los Angeles City Council. "Trans fats are bad for us and they can and should be eliminated from our food," said Councilman Jose Huizar. "Scientific and health communities agree that trans fats are toxic. In fact, we know they contribute to high levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol."

Trans fat, often found in margarine, shortenings, baked goods and fried foods, is believed to increase the risk of coronary heart disease. It is also thought to increase a person's level of bad cholesterol. Butter and natural oils, such as soy, corn, peanut and olive, do not contain trans fat.

Trans fat intake contributes to 30,000 heart disease-related deaths in the United States every year, said public health director Dr. Jonathan Fielding. Replacing trans fat with another oil will not reduce the number of calories or fat in food, Fielding said. "This will have no impact on the greatest epidemic we have in Los Angeles County -- overweight and obesity," Fielding said. "What we're talking about with trans fat is substituting one fat for another and this really needs to be the beginning of a dialogue with consumers about reducing fat overall."

In response to the L.A. County report, Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, D- Compton, drafted a bill that would give local governments the power to regulate eateries. The bill will likely be discussed by the Assembly in March, officials said. New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago have made similar attempts to ban or restrict the use of trans fat.

An effort to ban trans fat in New York City was unsuccessful, however the city has developed a plan to restrict the use of the partially hydrogenated oil. In New York, food items must contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.

A spokesman for the California Restaurants Association said he supports the effort to replace ingredients with trans fat. "Our industry has been actively moving away from trans fat for quite some time now," said Andrew Casana with the Los Angeles Chapter of the California Restaurants Association. "I don't think a day goes by where we don't see a new chain say that they've found a new oil that is trans-fat-free."

Those food chains that have agreed to eliminate trans fat from their foods include Wendy's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Arby's, Ruby Tuesday, Chili's, Loews Hotels, Royal Caribbean International, Johnny Rockets and Starbucks.


Nutty "ethical" worries about bottled water

I have a bottle on my desk, another in the cup holder in my car, still another rolling around in my gym bag and a case of them in my garage. I thought I was being health-conscious. But now I'm hearing that when it comes to the ethics of bottled water, the glass may be half empty.

The United Church of Canada urges people to refrain from purchasing bottled water, if possible. So do the National Coalition of American Nuns, a liberal group of about 1,200 sisters, and Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, a grass-roots environmental movement. In addition, the United Church of Christ and the National Council of Churches teamed up on a documentary decrying the dangers of water privatization. The fear: As water becomes a commodity instead of a natural resource, access will suffer - and so will those among us who can least afford to pay.

"The use of bottled water in the U.S. is more a lifestyle issue than a necessity," [Undoubtedly true. So lifestyle choice is bad?? I guess that to the Fascists it is] Sister Mary Ann Coyle, of the nuns' coalition, told The Christian Century magazine in a story this month. "In this country we should do more to push (avoidance of) bottled water unless we need it."

The U.S. leads the world in drinking bottled water, consuming more than 7.5 billion gallons in 2005, according to the bottled water industry, which thinks this campaign is wrongheaded. The real problem, that side argues, is getting clean water to everyone.

I e-mailed Mark Woods, a philosophy professor at the University of San Diego who specializes in environmental ethics. As it happened, he was traveling overseas after attending a conference. "I'm in Bombay, India, right now and there is a heated controversy over companies coming into villages, fencing off the communal water people have used for centuries, creating bottled water, and selling the water to the villagers at prices they can't afford," Woods wrote.

I e-mailed him again: Do you think it is unethical for Americans to drink bottled water? His response: "Given the fact that virtually all tap water in the U.S. is safe, yes it is probably unethical for Americans to drink bottled water when they have tap water options."

The reports I've read say this opposition is more a trickle than a flood - for now. "We're just beginning to recognize the issue as people of faith," Cassandra Carmichael, director of eco-justice programs at the National Council of Churches, told Religion News Service.

While we in this country are guzzling the bottled stuff, water is scarce for about a third of the world's population, according to RNS. "The moral call for us is not to privatize water," Carmichael said. "Water should be free for all."

I called Thomas English, who chairs the environmental task force at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, and asked him about the issue. His response: "Why waste your money?" He thinks it's "kind of dumb" to pay for bottled water when you can get water from your spigot at home. So much to think about as I stare at my now-empty 16.9-ounce bottle, which I will recycle (I promise). Which leaves me with one final question: Got milk?



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles (fifths) to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


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