Saturday, March 19, 2011

The American "Paradox"

More evidence that the low-fat hypothesis is crap.

(Click the image for the full graphic)

In 1977, Senator George McGovern's Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs issued its "Dietary Goals for the United States" -- the country's first set of government-issued nutritional guidelines. The report recommended that Americans drastically cut their intake of fat -- and especially saturated fat. And guess what? We complied.

As this infographic shows, Americans' consumption of red meat -- beef, specifically -- has gone way, way down since the mid-1970s. In its place, we've increasingly turned to the "healthy" white meat of chickens. Also? Tons and tons of "heart-healthy" low-fat, low-calorie food products.

In a 1997 report entitled "Divergent Trends in Obesity and Fat Intake Patterns: The American Paradox," researchers noted that "[i]t appears that efforts to promote the low-calorie and low-fat food products have been highly successful," but this decrease in dietary fat consumption did "not appear to have prevented the progression of obesity in the population."

As Gary Taubes wrote in "Good Calories, Bad Calories":
For the past decade, public-health authorities have tried to explain the obesity epidemic in the United States and elsewhere. In 1960, government researchers began surveying Americans about their health and nutrition status... According to these surveys, through the 1960s and early 1970s, 12-14 percent of Americans were obese. This figure rose by 8 percent in the 1980s and early 1990s, and another 10 percent by the turn of this century.
Despite cutting back on red meat (and its saturated fat), and despite turning increasingly to low-fat foods, we're still getting fatter and fatter. And now, over 34 percent of Americans -- more than a third of us -- are obese.

Given that all signs point to the low-fat hypothesis being bunk, can we please stop calling the diverging trends in obesity and fat consumption a "paradox"?