'U' health system bans trans fats

BY DARRYN FITZGERALD
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 14, 2010

Three years after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg banned trans fat from his city, starting a national trend toward the elimination of the unhealthy ingredient, the University of Michigan Health System has unveiled its own initiative to stop the use of the partially hydrogenated oils inside University Hospital buildings.

Under the new guidelines, industrial trans fats have been eliminated from patient food programs and food courts inside Hospital buildings. Though talks about the ban began more than a year ago, the ban did not officially go into effect until the first of this year.

Craig Luck, contract administrator for Hospital Operations, said officials wanted to hold off on implementing the ban until they had all the information necessary to make an informed decision.

“By no means did we delay intentionally,” said Luck. “We wanted to do a lot of research, get input, and further educate ourselves on the process.”

The ban was spurred in part by a pledge made in November 2008 by the Michigan Hospital Association to voluntarily eliminate trans fats.

In response, Health System leaders formed a committee of registered dieticians, food service directors and marketing experts to research and plan the logistics of a Health System-wide ban.

The movement against partially hydrogenated fats stems from overwhelming evidence that they contribute directly to obesity by increasing bad cholesterol and reducing good cholesterol.

According to a UHS press release, obesity now accounts for between 9 and 11 percent of total United States health care costs, making the ban of trans fats a sound choice for protecting the future of the nation’s health care economy.

Erica Wald, registered dietitian with MHealthy Nutrition and Weight Management, said the ban will not only make the food healthier, it will also improve the quality of the food.

“(Trans fat) has more health implications than other fats, so we are trying to substitute the trans fats for higher quality substitutes,” Wald said. “We’re trying lots of different alternatives such as prune puree.”

In addition to finding trans fat substitutes, one of the biggest challenges this initiative has faced — both in Michigan and around the nation — is finding food vendors who will comply with these regulations. Since so many of the ingredients and other food products are outsourced, the Health System has to insure that those companies also abide by the new regulation, said Luck.

“It made our process more grueling,” Luck said. “A lot of companies are thinking about it, and just haven’t done it.”