Friday, October 12, 2007

Fat and heart disease

Mona Charen's latest column directed my attention to this article from the New York Times. Not only does it deliver yet another pair of refutations of the silly idea that consensus determines truth (take that, postmodernists!), but it also points out that a very significant thing we've all been taught is wrong; high fat diets are not strongly correlated with heart disease.

There is certainly logic to the idea; dieticians have worked for years on the assumption that if you eat a lot of a substance, you're going to find a lot of it in your body. Hence, if you load up on the bacon and steak and eggs, you're going to find that saturated fat and cholesterol in your arteries.

The trouble with this logic, apart from the empirical evidence that does not link high fat diets with heart disease, is that the body creates and breaks down both fats and cholesterol. So we find Frenchmen and Eskimos who eat a ton of foie gras and whale blubber who nevertheless never make it down to Mayo for pentuple bypass and carotid cleaning surgery.

Looks like Lefty's Pizza in Niwot might have to rename "Craig's Cardiac Arrest." I hear it's great training food, though, for one of the world's greatest sports. Men, "husband up", and then chow down.


jroosh said...


JT said...

Bubba/Bert -

First, sorry for posting this as a comment, but I don't have your email address.

I am very interested in possibly doing a point/counterpoint or just opposing viewpoints with politics on Spork Nation in the coming months.

I have done a fair bit of reading on your blog, and I like your cut-to-the-chase attittude. You tell it like you see it, which is refreshing.

Email me if you're interested.

pentamom said...

Okay, so what IS the real story here?

If dietary fat does not directly correlate to heart disease (and I agree that it's both plausible and apparently demonstrated that it does not), what are we missing? I mean, heart disease definitely relates to how much goop is in your coronary blood vessels, the goop is evidently body fat, and the body fat must be coming from somewhere. Apparently it's somewhere that's been overlooked. (no doubt because of the blind rush to blame dietary fat.)

What I mean is, it's one thing to debunk the direct dietary fat-heart disease link, but while we're at it, let's try to find out what IS clogging up our arteries. Or if we already know, at least mention it, so it doesn't sound like we're saying that because dietary fat doesn't lead to heart disease, people aren't piling up the body fat and blood cholesterol -- because we know that we are.

Bike Bubba said...

Well, we've still got exercise, genetics, and obesity to look at, no, as well as the possibility of interactions with two or more factors. The statistics are a lot harder, but one interesting fact about experiments is that you'll sometimes find that factors A and B are not significant, but AB is, and so on.

Overall, medical statistics are extremely difficult because people are different, and thus it's terrible hard to control for all the other variables you're bringing into the experiment.

Shawn said...

...and yet, why would someone have an incentive to oversimplify medical statistics?

Oh, yeah, wait...because there's money riding on them. I really am shocked that not everyone is as jaded and cynical about everything as I am. :)

But, I still am optimistic.

Bike Bubba said...

Money and power, too. Keep in mind that when government pays an awful lot of our medical bills, the results of these studies carry a lot of weight.

Keep posted for the winner of the Michael Bellesiles Statistical Fraud Award. It goes to a medical study this year.

(my creation; this is nothing you'll see on Fox unless something very different happens)

Shawn said...

there's a good EconTalk podcast on 'intermittent explosive disorder', where Russ Roberts discusses the perverse incentives faced by 'researchers', especially in light of state mandated insurance coverages.

Quite applicable...I suggest your fine readers checka-check it out.