Does the ban on trans-fats improve public health? In search of the optimal policy response

Abstract

This paper examines the contribution of the regulatory ban on trans-fats and voluntary trans-fat regulation to public health outcomes for a sample of 39 countries in the period 1990–2015. To this end, we exploit within-country variation in trans-fat legislation to estimate the impact of the trans fat ban on cardiovascular mortality and obesity rates. Our difference-in-difference estimates indicate modest and beneficial effects of the trans-fats ban in reducing cardiovascular mortality and obesity rate. We find that the ban on trans fats tends to decrease the mortality rate attributed to cardiovascular diseases while the effects on the obesity rates are significant, especially among children and adolescent age group. By contrast, voluntary regulation of trans fats and demand-driven regulatory strategies are generally not associated with a marked drop in the obesity rate. By controlling for country-specific time trends, we show that the estimated mortality- and obesity-related impact of the ban is not driven by pre-existing trends, and does not affect non-cardiovascular mortality rate.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.

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Correspondence to Mitja Kovac.

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The authors would like to thank Menahem Spiegel for the editorial guidance and to the anonymous referee for comments and feedback on the earlier version of the paper. We would also like to thank Boudwijn Bouckaert, Gerrit De Geest, Ben Depoorter, Miguel Garcia Posada-Gomez, Nuno Garoupa, Sven Hoeppner, Jonathan Klick, Lela Mélon, Edward Norton, Juan S. Mora Sanguinetti, Joseph Sabia, Hélène Schernberg, Stefan Voigt, Peter Van Wijck, and Wolfgang Weigel as well as the participants of the 16th Annual German Law and Economics Conference (Ljubljana), 8th Annual Conference of Spanish Law and Economics Association (Madrid), 34th Annual Conference of the European Association of Law and Economics (EALE) in London for comments, feedback and initiatives on the earlier drafts of the paper.

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Kovac, M., Spruk, R. Does the ban on trans-fats improve public health? In search of the optimal policy response. J Regul Econ 55, 258–281 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11149-019-09387-8

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Keywords

  • Trans-fats
  • Empirical legal studies
  • Public policy
  • Public health

JEL Classification

  • C23
  • C26
  • C51
  • K42
  • O43