Sugar vs. fat conspiracy

I’m quite partial to a conspiracy theory and there were a couple emanating from America last week – one far more plausible than the other. I found the “Hillary Clinton is dead and a body double is covering while we work out what to do”, a bit farfetched, but the sugar conspiracy that was documented in the Journal of the American Medical Association was completely believable...

The background

Let’s remind ourselves of how the whole dietary guidelines, fat vs. sugar debate started: it was all about heart disease. In the US, in the 1950s, there was a sense that American middle aged men particularly were ‘dropping like flies’. This was not true, but numbers can be presented in misleading ways (lies, damned lies and statistics and all that).

In 1950, the death rate from all causes for the US was 1.446% (Ref 1); that means that 1,446 per 100,000 people died (for any reason) in 1950. Of these 1,446 deaths per 100,000 people, 589 (41%) were recorded as deaths from heart disease. So we can present heart deaths in one of two ways:

1) The heart death rate is 0.589% (589 in 100,000 people died from heart disease in 1950); or

2) The heart death rate is 41% (of the people who died, 41% died from heart disease).

I don’t know about you, but I find the second number completely disingenuous. It still happens today, however – all the time. Have you seen National Heart Foundation literature/adverts scaring us that one in three people will die from heart disease? Then you wonder how you’ve got 30 friends and you didn’t lose 10 of them last year? We have over-dramatised heart deaths since we first started recording them. May I suggest that it is in the interests of ‘charities’ and pharmaceutical companies that we do so?

This misrepresentation set the scene for arguably the single most important study in the history of dietary guidelines: The Seven Countries Study (Dr Ancel Keys, 1970). Here’s the quotation from the first of the twenty volumes of The Seven Countries Study: “The urgency of finding means of prevention is sharpest for men in middle age for it is in that group that the social cost of CHD is greatest... Starting with men aged 40 through 59, the follow-up would show CHD causing close to 40% of all deaths in five years. It is understandable, then, that most work on the epidemiology of CHD begins with men of those ages." (p.I-1) (Ref 2).


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