National study finds no effect from reducing total dietary fat

Despite findings being announced this week that a low-fat diet introduced in the middle-age years didn't reduce the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke or colon cancer, one of the researchers says people still need to focus on the types of fat they eat. The national diet study of almost 50,000 healthy postmenopausal women was part of the massive Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study.

The hypothesis that low-fat diets could help reduce the risk of certain diseases had been assumed, but never tested. But, do the findings mean that what we eat doesn't matter?

"Nutrition knowledge has progressed dramatically since the study began," said Mara Vitolins, Dr.Ph., associate professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. "Today, we know that reducing total fat may not be enough we need to focus on the types of fat we eat."

Vitolins, a registered dietician, is an author on the three papers that report the results in the Feb. 8 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Wake Forest was a Vanguard Center, one of 16 university sites chosen to launch the WHI.

The study compared a group of women who followed their normal eating patterns with a group who followed a study diet designed to reduce total fat. At the end of the first year, the low-fat diet group was consuming about 24 percent of calories from fat, compared to 35 percent in the normal-diet group.

At the end of the study's sixth year, the low-fat diet group consumed about 29 percent of calories from fat, compared to 37 percent in the normal-diet group. The low-fat diet group also increased their consumption of vegetables, fruits and grains.

Researchers found no difference between the two groups in terms of risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart disease or stroke.

Vitolins said one explanation for the results is that the low-fat diet was designed to reduce total fat and didn't make a distinction bet

Contact: Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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