Guess what, guys! Remember that time New York City banned chain restaurants from serving trans fats? Well, the Department of Health compared a bunch of lunch receipts from restaurants in 2007 and 2009, and it looks like the ban is working. New Yorkers are eating 2 fewer grams of trans fats per meal than they did prior to the ban.
Funny how restaurant diners eat less of something when it’s illegal for restaurants to sell that something! I am sure that no one could have seen this coming!
The major news outlets have been celebrating the success of this controversial policy. But no one has mentioned how the designers of the study set the bar for success really, really low. Sure, they measured fat consumption – but they measured ONLY fat consumption, and skipped over other indicators of health. So, fat consumption decreased, but what happened to sugar? Carbs? Are fewer people eating in restaurants now, or more? What happened to food prices when suppliers could no longer use cheap trans fats?
Not only do the study results fail to tell the whole truth, the study itself never even sought out that truth to begin with. This is like measuring drug consumption at Bonnaroo (the east coast’s Coachella) by asking concertgoers if they’ve taken any Advil that day. The study results are good based on one metric, and inconclusive when it comes to overall health.
If the story of the trans fat ban ends up bing a truly happy one, then so much the better. But it’s missing some pretty big pieces. First of all, it neglects to mention why food was so full of unnatural trans fats to begin with. There are several reasons – one of which is that government is part of the cause of the problem. The federal government sends $16.9 billion in subsidies every year to food additive producers, much of which is used to make more hydrogenated oils, which are full of – you guessed it – more trans fats. The government has made these oils, and the fats they contain, artificially cheap. And then the city government made it illegal to sell those fats.
It is not the government’s place to choose winners and losers in the agriculture sector. Get the subsidies out, and trans fats get a whole lot more expensive and less appealing to restaurants. This means less trans fat in restaurant food. This means there’s much less of a need for government to step in and regulate nutrition. A freer market would allow consumers to eat healthier – without Big Sis monitoring all the trans fats in all the menu items in all the chain restaurants.
Instead of solving the problems government creates by using more government (and getting lukewarm results), lets try fighting this one with freedom — we’ll see money saved by cutting subsidies and fewer tans fats on the market. THAT is something truly worth celebrating.
Angela Morabito | Georgetown University | @_AngelaMorabito