"Soft" science? Fat's health impacts are often oversimplified, Science news feature contends

Media Note: This release describes a Science news feature by award-winning journalist Gary Taubes. His report examines complex scientific issues, and does not advocate any particular nutritional regimen. Dietary guidance should be provided only by health-care professionals.

"Mainstream nutritional science has demonized dietary fat," a Science news article reports in the 30 March, 2001 issue. "Yet, 50 years and hundreds of millions of dollars of research have failed to prove that eating a low-fat diet will help you live longer."

Reporter Gary Taubes spent over a year researching the article and based his conclusions on interviews with over 150 sources. Taubes emphasizes that "no one is recommending that people run out and eat butter and lard instead of vegetables."

But, his news report contends, "The data remain ambiguous as to whether low-fat diets will benefit healthy Americans." Moreover, Taubes reports, dire warnings about dietary fat may have encouraged a shift to high-carbohydrate diets, "which may be no better-perhaps even worse-than high-fat diets."

America's fear of fat emerged some 50 years ago, when it quickly replaced malnutrition as the nation's top dietary concern. After World War II, Taubes explains, a major increase in coronary heart disease prompted researchers like Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, to call for reduced fat intake.

In fact, since the 1970s, Americans' average fat intake has dropped from over 40 percent of total calories to 34 percent, and cholesterol levels are lower, too. While fewer people are dying from heart disease, the incidence of heart disease has not declined: Between 1979 and 1996, the number of medical procedures for heart disease increased from 1.2 million to 5.4 million a year, the American Heart Association reports.

Since the early 1980s, obesity has increased dramatically in America, from 14 percent of the population to over 22 percent, and diabetes is al

Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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