HARRISBURG – State Health Secretary Dr. Calvin B. Johnson Wednesday announced the creation of a statewide task force to research and address the health effects of trans fat in food. The task force, which will begin meeting this month, will provide the governor, health officials and state legislators with information and guidance needed to pursue action to reduce the negative health impact of trans fat.
“Heart disease is the number one killer of Pennsylvanians and people who live in the United States,” said Dr. Johnson. “It is time for health advocates, policy makers and the food industry to take a serious look at how trans fat may contribute to the development of heart disease and other serious, preventable health conditions.”
Trans fat is formed when food manufacturers turn liquid vegetable oils into solid fats by adding hydrogen, a process called hydrogenation, to increase the shelf life and maintain the flavor of foods. Trans fat can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils.
Trans fat, along with saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, is shown to raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad cholesterol,” levels, which may increase the risk of coronary heart disease. In 2005, more than 24,700 Pennsylvanians died from coronary heart disease.
In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring food manufacturers to list trans fat content on the nutrition facts label. Listing
of saturated fat and dietary cholesterol on food labels has been required since 1993.
“Consumers should pay attention to food nutrition labels and avoid foods with high levels of trans fat,” said Dr. Johnson. “However, this task force will go a step further and work on finding more ways to protect the public’s health from some of the negative effects of trans fat.”
The task force will create an educational report and resource guide to help the public better understand and avoid trans fat. In addition, the task force will review current trans fat legislation and best practices in other cities and states and make recommendations for use in Pennsylvania.
The task force was formed as the result of coordination between the Health Department and Rep. James Wansacz (D-Luzerne). Task force membership will include representatives from the state departments of Health, Agriculture, Aging and Education, local health departments, state legislature, Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, health advocacy organizations, Penn State University and food manufacturers.
For more information about nutrition and reducing the risk for heart disease, visit the state health department online or call 877-PA-HEALTH.