September 30, 2010
Trans Fats Boost Baby Obesity?

One can easily find lots of competing theories for the obesity boom including omega 6 fatty acids and fructose. Here's another possibility: Does mom's consumption of junk foods high in trans fats boost baby obesity?

Athens, Ga. – A new University of Georgia study suggests that mothers who consume a diet high in trans fats double the likelihood that their infants will have high levels of body fat.

What fructose, trans fats, and omega 6 fatty acids all have in common: their portion of our diets went up as obesity rose. From that perspective they make obvious suspects. So it makes sense to pay attention to research linking any of them to the rise in obesity, insulin resistant diabetes, and other elements of metabolic syndrome.

Researchers, whose results appear in the early online edition of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that infants whose mothers consumed more than 4.5 grams of trans fats per day while breastfeeding were twice as likely to have high percentages of body fat, or adiposity, than infants whose mothers consumed less than 4.5 grams per day of trans fats.

The researchers investigated different fatty acids, but determined trans fats to be the most important contributor to excess body fat. "Trans fats stuck out as a predictor to increased adiposity in both mothers and their babies," said study co-author Alex Anderson, assistant professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Trans fats are certainly harmful and to be avoided. You might think, however, that since trans fat consumption is an approximate proxy for junk food consumption that other elements of junk food are as much to blame as trans fats. For example, a medium order of french fries can over 3 times the 4.5 grams threshold reported in this study. But in the last 5 years fast food restaurants such as McDonald's dropping the use of trans fats in french fry oil. Many commercial doughnuts have 5 grams of trans fat. But if you must eat doughnuts be aware that Dunkin Donuts stopped using trans fats in October 2007. I quite like the honesty of Dunkin Donuts about this move: They only made the doughnut less unhealthy, no pretending.

“The goal was not to make a healthy doughnut, it was really to create a doughnut that was better,” said Joe Scafido, Dunkin’s chief creative and innovation officer. “Certainly, we did not create a healthy doughnut.”

KFC eliminated trans fat from chicken frying in 2007. Other restaurant chains have cut trans fats as well including Wendy's. But your lowest odds of eating trans fat in restaurants comes from eating in jurisdictions where it is banned: California, NYC, some New York State counties and some other jurisdictions have banned restaurant trans fats. But it isn't clear to me whether any of these bans extend to grocery store food food. Anyone know?

My advice: avoid trans fats entirely. Cut your omega 6 fatty acid consumption. Get more omega 3s. Avoid high fructose corn syrup too. Roll back the big changes in diet that accompanied the rise in obesity.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 September 30 10:04 PM  Aging Weight Studies

Tuck said at October 1, 2010 12:14 PM:

Avoid any food that contains anything with the word "hydrogenated". Foods are allowed to contain unlisted trans fats that are created during the hydrogenation process.

From Nabisco's web site:

"When a label shows 0 grams trans fat per serving and lists a “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil (such as soybean or cottonseed, among others) in the ingredients, the product may contain up to 0.49 grams of trans fat per serving."

random said at October 1, 2010 12:42 PM:

Robert Lustig talked about the epidemic of infant obesity in his speech (Sugar: The Bitter Truth). It's been a while since I watched it, but I think he blamed the use of corn syrup in infant formula.

shannonlove said at October 1, 2010 1:25 PM:

One should also point out that the principle reason that trans-fats are so widely used is that health Nazis launched a jihad against saturated fat back in the late 70s, early 80s. Up until then, places like McDonald's fried french fries in lard (and they were delicious!) Lard was also originally the primary fat used in pastries such as Twinkies.

I can still remember reading rants from IIRC "Science in the Public Interest" berating McDonald's for using "poisonous" lard when all these economical and healthy trans-fats where readily available. Bowing to public and political pressure restaurants and manufactures ruthlessly purge saturated fats from their products almost always replacing them trans-fats.


You know, if a corporation had supported as many dangerous ideas as organizations like Science in the Public Interest, it would have long since been sued into oblivion. Yet, all these self-appointed busy body organization keep churning out nonsense and killing people with no consequence.

I want a job like that.

PapayaSF said at October 1, 2010 4:39 PM:

Shannon is correct. And Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux Cookies have never been the same since they replaced the coconut oil.

The whole cycle reminds me of animal testing: early 20th century activists insisted on it, late 20th century activists are outraged that anyone does it.

In said at October 2, 2010 9:42 AM:


You like fries cooked in lard? Check it out:

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