October 14, 2011

The wrong road

Dr. Ancel Keys was actually the "K" in the famous K-rations used in the military during WWII. He did experimental research on the minimums required to keep the flame of life alive in human beings during times of food scarcity. (The resemblance to the "starve yourself" advice given by modern weight loss gurus is merely an eerie coincidence.)

Keyes lived long -- but not well
Keys, seen here shortly before his death at the age of 100, formulated the "lipid hypothesis," which theorizes that eating saturated fat leads to the clogged arteries of atherosclerosis, which in turn leads to heart attacks.

He was not a medical doctor; he received a Ph.D. in oceanography in 1930. But his human nutritional studies had led to a great deal of institutional respect. When he concluded, based on data from the European nations dealing with rationing as a result of WWII, that it was their lowered saturated fat intake that led to a lowered rate of heart disease; he was listened to.

His Seven Countries Study was the first study to systematically examine the relationships between lifestyle, diet, coronary heart disease and stroke in different populations from different regions of the world. It pointed clearly to saturated fat intake as a driver for heart attack incidence.

Except... he actually had data from twenty two countries. He left out all the countries which did not support his hypothesis.

This, in science, is known as "cheating."

In the words of a ground-breaking NYT article, "What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?":

Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health ... is the de facto spokesman of the longest-running, most comprehensive diet and health studies ever performed. 
He says that low-fat weight-loss diets have proved in clinical trials and real life to be dismal failures, and that on top of it all, the percentage of fat in the American diet has been decreasing for two decades. Our cholesterol levels have been declining, and we have been smoking less, and yet the incidence of heart disease has not declined as would be expected. ''That is very disconcerting,'' Willett says. ''It suggests that something else bad is happening.''

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