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November 22/29, 2016

Lowering the Bar on the Low-Fat Diet

Author Affiliations
  • 1New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA. 2016;316(20):2087-2088. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.15473

The recent revelation that the sugar industry attempted to manipulate science in the 1960s1 has once again focused attention on the quality of the scientific evidence in the field of nutrition and how best to prevent diet-related chronic disease.

Beginning in the 1970s, the US government and major professional nutrition organizations recommended that individuals in the United States eat a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet, launching arguably the largest public health experiment in history. Throughout the ensuing 40 years, the prevalence of obesity and diabetes increased several-fold, even as the proportion of fat in the US diet decreased by 25%. Recognizing new evidence that consumption of processed carbohydrates—white bread, white rice, chips, crackers, cookies, and sugary drinks—but not total fat has contributed importantly to these epidemics, the 2015 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans essentially eliminated the upper limit on dietary fat intake.2 However, a comprehensive examination of this massive public health failure has not been conducted. Consequently, significant harms persist, with the low-fat diet remaining entrenched in public consciousness and food policy. In addition, critical scientific questions have been muddled.

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