Category Archives: health policy

Fred Kummerow, PhD, fought the battle against Trans Fats for over 50 years.

Professor Fred Kummerow passed away on May 31 at his home in Urbana, Ill at age 102. He ate butter, red meat and eggs cooked in butter, along with plenty of fruits and vegetables. He avoided margarine, french fries and other fried foods, along with cookies, cake and crackers which contained artificial trans-fats. He conducted research in his nutrition science laboratory at the University of Illinois up until his death. he authored the book Cholesterol Won’t Kill You, But Trans Fat Could: Separating Scientific Fact from Nutritional Fiction in What You Eat

Fred warned the American public and scientists in the 1950s about the dangers of artificial man-made trans fats. His research was largely ignored and criticized by the food industry and by scientists who were funded by the food industry for decades. Despite mounting evidence in both animals and humans that artificial trans fats dramatically increased the risk of heart attacks, strokes, peripheral vascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and probably several forms of cancer, the FDA ignored his pleas to address the issue. In 2009 Professor Kummerow filed a petition with the FDA to ban the use of trans fats. Although federal law required that the FDA respond within 180 days to such a petition, the FDA remained silent. In 2013, approaching the age of 99, Professor Kummerow sued the FDA. Two years latter in 2015 the FDA declared that artificial trans-fats were unsafe and should be eliminated from the US food supply by 2018.

Through his lifelong work, Professor Kummerow has produced a policy change that will likely save hundreds of thousands of lives.

What are trans fats and why have they been in our food for 7 decades?

Although there are some forms of natural trans fats which are safe for consumption when consumed in whole foods, artificial trans-fats are produced by placing unsaturated fat (such as corn oil, soy oil) under high pressure and high temperature conditions and adding hydrogen in the presence of a metal catalyst. These fats were introduced to many American foods because they dramatically extend the shelf life of foods and give a pleasant mouth texture to a variety of processed foods. They remain in many foods still on the shelves today. You cannot rely on labels such as “NO TRANS FATS” OR “TRANS FAT FREE” because food companies are allowed to make this statement as long as the amount of trans fats does not exceed 0.5 grams per serving. No amount is safe!

The Institute of Medicine, on July 10, 2002 declared manufactured trans fatty acid (TFA) a serious danger to the health of our nation with a: “tolerable upper intake level of zero.”  This means there is no safe level of consumption. Despite that strong statement in 2002, it has taken the efforts of an elderly professor, including a lawsuit, to bring the FDA around to finally address the issue.

But it is not over yet, you can bet that the food industry will try to delay the implementation of the ban or possibly even argue against the overwhelming science that supports such a ban.

In the meantime read labels. If any food item contains “partially hydrogenated” oil of any kind or “hydrogenated oil” of any kind it contains trans fats. These foods are typically foods you should not be eating any way because they usually also contain added sugar, refined flour and/or refined easily oxidized inflammatory “vegetable” oils. They are not whole foods and therefore should not be consumed for many reasons. But if you want to eat cake, cookies, crackers, bread, or any other processed foods, beware and read the ingredients so as to at least avoid trans-fats.

You can read about Fred Kummerow, his life and research at these sites:

Fred A. Kummerow, scientist who raised early warnings about trans fats, dies at 102 – The Washington Post

Fred A. Kummerow, an Early Opponent of Trans Fats, Dies at 102 – The New York Times

Fred Kummerow, U. of I. professor who fought against trans fats, dies at 102 – Chicago Tribune

Fred also studied the effects of a oxysterols and oxidized low-density lipoprotein (OxLDL) both of which contribute to atherosclerosis.  In a  2013 publication Professor Kummerow stated

“levels of oxysterols and OxLDL increase primarily as a result of three diet or lifestyle factors: the consumption of oxysterols from commercially fried foods such as fried chicken, fish and french fries; oxidation of cholesterol in vivo driven by the consumption of excess polyunsaturated fatty acids from vegetable oils; and cigarette smoking.”

Yet the American Heart Association continues to recommend increased consumption of polyunsaturated fats from the likes of corn oil, soy oil, cottonseed and similar oils. I have discussed the problems with that advice here and here.

So the next time you avoid trans fats by reading food labels, think of Professor Kummerow who brought light to some very dark areas in the history of nutrition and food in the US.

Eat clean, live clean, and enjoy.

Dr. Bob

Obamacare: Repeal Now, Replace Later. Good or bad?

President Obama published, in the New England Journal of Medicine, a discussion of the dangers inherent in the Republican plan to REPEAL NOW REPLACE LATER.  I agree with Obama’s warning that such an approach is “IRRESPONSIBLE”

Here is the letter:

Health care policy often shifts when the country’s leadership changes. That was true when I took office, and it will likely be true with President-elect Donald Trump. I am proud that my administration’s work, through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other policies, helped millions more Americans know the security of health care in a system that is more effective and efficient. At the same time, there is more work to do to ensure that all Americans have access to high-quality, affordable health care. What the past 8 years have taught us is that health care reform requires an evidence-based, careful approach, driven by what is best for the American people. That is why Republicans’ plan to repeal the ACA with no plan to replace and improve it is so reckless. Rather than jeopardize financial security and access to care for tens of millions of Americans, policymakers should develop a plan to build on what works before they unravel what is in place.

Thanks to the ACA, a larger share of Americans have health insurance than ever before.1 Increased coverage is translating into improved access to medical care — as well as greater financial security and better health. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans still get their health care through sources that predate the law, such as a job or Medicare, and are benefiting from improved consumer protections, such as free preventive services.

We have also made progress in how we pay for health care, including rewarding providers who deliver high-quality care rather than just a high quantity of care. These and other reforms in the ACA have helped slow health care cost growth to a fraction of historical rates while improving quality for patients. This includes better-quality and lower-cost care for tens of millions of seniors, individuals with disabilities, and low-income families covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And these benefits will grow in the years to come.

That being said, I am the first to say we can make improvements. Informed by the lessons we’ve learned during my presidency, I have put forward ideas in my budgets and a July 2016 article2 to address ongoing challenges — such as a lack of choice in some health insurance markets, premiums that remain unaffordable for some families, and high prescription-drug costs. For example, allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices could both reduce seniors’ spending and give private payers greater leverage. And I have always welcomed others’ ideas that meet the test of making the health system better. But persistent partisan resistance to the ACA has made small as well as significant improvements extremely difficult.

Now, Republican congressional leaders say they will repeal the ACA early this year, with a promise to replace it in subsequent legislation — which, if patterned after House Speaker Paul Ryan’s ideas, would be partly paid for by capping Medicare and Medicaid spending. They have yet to introduce that “replacement bill,” hold a hearing on it, or produce a cost analysis — let alone engage in the more than a year of public debate that preceded passage of the ACA. Instead, they say that such a debate will occur after the ACA is repealed. They claim that a 2- or 3-year delay will be sufficient to develop, pass, and implement a replacement bill.

This approach of “repeal first and replace later” is, simply put, irresponsible — and could slowly bleed the health care system that all of us depend on. (And, though not my focus here, executive actions could have similar consequential negative effects on our health system.) If a repeal with a delay is enacted, the health care system will be standing on the edge of a cliff, resulting in uncertainty and, in some cases, harm beginning immediately. Insurance companies may not want to participate in the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2018 or may significantly increase prices to prepare for changes in the next year or two, partly to try to avoid the blame for any change that is unpopular. Physician practices may stop investing in new approaches to care coordination if Medicare’s Innovation Center is eliminated. Hospitals may have to cut back services and jobs in the short run in anticipation of the surge in uncompensated care that will result from rolling back the Medicaid expansion. Employers may have to reduce raises or delay hiring to plan for faster growth in health care costs without the current law’s cost-saving incentives. And people with preexisting conditions may fear losing lifesaving health care that may no longer be affordable or accessible.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee of getting a second vote to avoid such a cliff, especially on something as difficult as comprehensive health care reform. Put aside the scope of health care reform — the federal health care budget is 50% bigger than that of the Department of Defense.3 Put aside how it personally touches every single American — practically every week, I get letters from people passionately sharing how the ACA is working for them and about how we can make it better. “Repeal and replace” is a deceptively catchy phrase — the truth is that health care reform is complex, with many interlocking pieces, so that undoing some of it may undo all of it.

Take, for example, preexisting conditions. For the first time, because of the ACA, people with preexisting conditions cannot be denied coverage, denied benefits, or charged exorbitant rates. I take my successor at his word: he wants to maintain protections for the 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions. Yet Republicans in Congress want to repeal the individual-responsibility portion of the law. I was initially against this Republican idea, but we learned from Massachusetts that individual responsibility, alongside financial assistance, is the only proven way to provide affordable, private, individual insurance to every American. Maintaining protections for people with preexisting conditions without requiring individual responsibility would cost millions of Americans their coverage and cause dramatic premium increases for millions more.4 This is just one of the many complex trade-offs in health care reform.

Given that Republicans have yet to craft a replacement plan, and that unforeseen events might overtake their planned agenda, there might never be a second vote on a plan to replace the ACA if it is repealed. And if a second vote does not happen, tens of millions of Americans will be harmed. A recent Urban Institute analysis estimated that a likely repeal bill would not only reverse recent gains in insurance coverage, but leave us with more uninsured and uncompensated care than when we started.5

Put simply, all our gains are at stake if Congress takes up repealing the health law without an alternative that covers more Americans, improves quality, and makes health care more affordable. That move takes away the opportunity to build on what works and fix what does not. It adds uncertainty to lives of patients, the work of their doctors, and the hospitals and health systems that care for them. And it jeopardizes the improvements in health care that millions of Americans now enjoy.

Congress can take a responsible, bipartisan approach to improving the health care system. This was how we overhauled Medicare’s flawed physician payment system less than 2 years ago. I will applaud legislation that improves Americans’ care, but Republicans should identify improvements and explain their plan from the start — they owe the American people nothing less.

Health care reform isn’t about a nameless, faceless “system.” It’s about the millions of lives at stake — from the cancer survivor who can now take a new job without fear of losing his insurance, to the young person who can stay on her parents’ insurance after college, to the countless Americans who now live healthier lives thanks to the law’s protections. Policymakers should therefore abide by the physician’s oath: “first, do no harm.”

I have a few comments.

First,  historically, every major piece of legislation passed by Congress and the Senate has received revision and amendment to correct original deficiencies recognized after a few years of implementation, EXCEPT THE ACA. No piece of legislation is perfect from the beginning.  Even the US Constitution has been amended! There are always problems that should be identified and corrected. Such is the case with the ACA. But because the Republican party put electoral politics ahead of our nation’s best interest, no improvements were sought or implemented. Instead, an immediate “repeal” position was taken by the Republican party and maintained until the election.

Second, the irony of this situation is that the ACA was modeled on the Republican party’s alternative to Hilary Clinton’s original plan put forth during the Clinton administration in the 1990’s (neither of which were passed) That very same model was subsequently enacted by legislation and implemented in Massachusetts by Republican governor Mitt Romney. In fact the economist who helped design Romney’s plan was part of Obama’s team that drafted the ACA!

Clearly, partisan politics has TRUMPED the interests of our nation.

Sleep well, live clean.

Bob Hansen MD