When the Chelsea Board of Health voted at the end of last year to ban all artificial trans-fats in the city, that meant no trans-fats – truly zero.
It is a groundbreaking, strict regulation and one that no other community in the nation has yet instituted.
The fat-free regulation was effective immediately for new food establishments licensed on or after Jan. 1, 2012.
For existing food establishments, though, enforcement begins this coming Jan. 1, 2013. The work on this initiative began nearly two years ago through a collaboration between the Board of Health and the Healthy Chelsea Coalition, supported by the MGH Center for Community Health Improvement and MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center.
What makes Chelsea’s trans-fat ban considered first-in-the-nation is the unique step taken by the city’s Board of Health. Through careful consideration, the Board’s regulation prohibits the use of any partially hydrogenated ingredients. This means that food service establishments will be truly “trans fat free”. The zero artificial trans-fat ban adopted by Chelsea means the city is the only community following the recommendation set forth by the American Heart Association to keep the amount of artificial trans fats one should eat to zero.
As Healthy Chelsea’s Community Coordinator, Ron Fishman has been actively reaching out to the City’s food service establishments to help them meet the zero trans fat requirement.
Last year, Fishman met with 65 restaurant owners and managers to explain the health impact of artificial trans-fats and help them identify trans-fats in the products they use. Once owners and managers understood that trans-fats are known to cause heart disease, they were overwhelmingly supportive of the new regulation and if necessary, willing to make adjustments to the ingredients in their food offerings.
With enforcement for pre-existing food service establishments coming within 90 days, Fishman has stepped-up his technical assistance with a core group of bakers. Artificial trans-fats help to give crusts a light and flaky texture. Finding substitutions that will make their pastries compliant with Chelsea’s regulation, while maintaining comparable taste, texture and cost, can be difficult for bakers.
Already, some bakers have voiced frustration – such as Richie Katz of Katz Bagels. Katz has said he cannot find an acceptable substitute ingredient for his pie crusts and turnovers, and will simply quit making those products on Dec. 31st.
Fishman, however, has reached out to manufacturers and wholesalers of trans-fat-free baking products, ordered sample boxes of shortening and pastry dough, and distributed the samples to bakeries for testing. He also is working with Restaurant Depot of Everett, a wholesale food service supplier, to assure easy access to trans-fat-free products for Chelsea and other area businesses.
The owner of Mario’s Bakery, Octavio Restrepo, is one of the business owners working successfully with Fishman.
“As I become more aware of how the ingredients I use can negatively affect the health of my family and customers, I do my best to provide only the healthiest products possible,” said Restrepo. “Ron helps me by providing me with information and samples of products that will allow me to offer only 100 percent trans-fat-free pastry to my customers.”
The health consequences of trans-fats are serious.
“Artificial trans-fats or partially hydrogenated oils are well known to be a major cause of heart disease,” said Dr. Dean Xerras, Medical Director of MGH Chelsea Healthcare Center and Chelsea Board of Health member. “They create a far greater risk than any of the naturally occurring fats, even saturated fat.”
Last year, when the Chelsea Board of Health banned trans-fat, Chair Christopher Miller said the health of the community was at stake.
In Chelsea, 29 percent of the adult population is obese, 54 percent of the children between the 1st and 10th grades are overweight or obese.
Mortality rates for chronic diseases in Chelsea are significantly higher than the state average; deaths for heart disease per 100,000 individuals are 13 percent higher (296.9 for Chelsea and 218.8 for the state, 2006), deaths for stroke are 47 percent higher (56 for Chelsea and 38 for the state, 2005) and deaths for diabetes are more than twice as high (56 for Chelsea and 24 for the state, 2005).
Across the country, obesity rates increased by 10 percent for all U.S. children 10 to 17 years old between 2003 and 2007, but by 23 percent during the same time period for low-income children. This national study of more than 40,000 children also found that in 2007, children from lower income households had more than two times higher odds of being obese than children from higher income households.
Since 2007, nearly 20 communities in the United States have passed partial trans-fat bans, including, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Needham, and Lynn.
These communities opted to follow a 2006 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation that defines foods as “trans fat free” if they contain less than 0.5 grams of artificial trans-fats per serving.
When considering their regulation, members of the Chelsea Board of Health believed that 0.5 was still too much trans-fat.
“The drawback of such a stipulation is that it makes trans-fat bans more difficult to enforce, and creates a risk that the public will be eating foods containing trans-fats while believing that the trans fat level is zero,” said Dr. Xerras.
The more stringent regu lation will begin to be enforced all over Chelsea on Jan. 1, 2013.