NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is Fat Okay?

July 9, 2002

For decades, the federal government, the American Medical Association and prestigious health institutions have preached the diet gospel of low fat consumption and greater carbohydrate intake. But over a similar period, a renegade physician by the name of Dr. Robert Atkins championed exactly the opposite: enjoy steaks and dairy products, but avoid such items as pasta, rice, bagels and sugar.

Now, evidence suggests the establishment's advice caused obesity -- and the Atkins' prescription was actually the correct one.

  • Walter Willett, of the Harvard University School of Public Health, conducted studies on nearly 300,000 individuals and concluded that the focus on the adverse effects of fat in the diet may have generated the obesity epidemic which started in the 1980s.
  • At a cost of several hundred million dollars, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted five major studies trying to demonstrate a connection between eating fat and heart disease -- but came up with no such evidence.
  • Studies show Americans have increased their daily calorie intake by up to 400 -- mostly in the form of carbohydrates -- since the late 1970s, suggesting they're hungrier without their steaks.
  • But studies of patients on the Atkins' diet reveal that they lost twice the amount of weight as subjects on low-fat, low-calorie diets.

What's forgotten is that the low-fat dogma is only about 25 years old, and that until the late 1970s the accepted wisdom was that fat and protein protected against overeating by making one sated. Yet for 30 years, only two groups of researchers published test results on Atkins' diet.

Now, for the first time, the NIH is actually financing comparative studies of popular diets.

Source: Landon Flanagan, "What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?" New York Times Magazine, July 7, 2002.

 

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