Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chalk one up for the nanny state

I think you're going to be stuck with the abstract only but that's okay. Here's all you need to know. From 1988 to 2010, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), show that the average level of "bad cholesterol" (Low Density Lipoprotein, LDL-C ) in U.S. adults declined from 129 (95% CI, 127-130) mg/dL to 116 (95% CI, 114-117) mg/dL (P <.001 for linear trend). 

First of all, I should point out that NHANES is a socialist government plot to obtain information about the health of the American people, presumably so they can nefariously use it to find ways of making us healthier. 

The well-known liberal bias of reality is fully on display here as well. The question is, why did this happen? It's not just because more people are taking statins - the trend was also observed in people who are not. It's obviously not because people are exercising more and losing weight, or generally eating a better diet, because, well, they aren't. Au contraire.

But what did happen, and what appears to be the only plausible explanation (not proved, of course, just a sensible conclusion) is that this results from the purging of trans fats from the American diet. This happened partly because of public information campaigns in conjunction with requirements for nutritional labeling; and partly because of local governments imposing regulations on  fast food restaurants; and in general because CDC and USDA put out so much information about the evils of trans fats that food manufacturers started to brag about taking it out of their products. Check out the potato chip aisle if you haven't already noticed that.

This doesn't just make you healthier, even if you're a Republican. It saves you money on your health insurance and your taxes, because you aren't paying for as many heart attacks and strokes. I remember when regulations on fast food restaurants were happening getting into fights with commenters here (I used to have more of them, including trolls; those were the days) who thought they were being ruthlessly deprived of their personal freedom to eat french fries cooked in trans fats. They seemed unimpressed by the argument that they wouldn't be able to tell the difference but would live longer. Well suck on this, pal: you weren't able to tell the difference, and you're alive.


Tony Mach said...

Personally (being a socialist from old Europe), I really like the nanny state, but I do seem to remember that trans-fatty acids were introduced in order so "healthy" vegetable oils would replace the "unhealthy" butter (without partial hydrogenation it would be hard to put vegetable oils on you piece of bread). And I do seem to remember that the state had his hand in this.

Re butter: If you have good data for the consumption of butter, lard, vegetable oils (in all forms), etc. over the last 100 years it would be nice to compare it with the rates of cardiovascular diseases or obesity. Then tell me if you think that consumption of saturated fat is unhealthy and (highly increased) consumption of Omega-6 PUFAs is healthy. (BTW, you should look into the work of Bill Lands and tell me what you think – he makes awful presentations but his data seems sound).

Cervantes said...

Yes, at one time people thought that margarine was healthier than butter. It was a mistake. But food manufacturers continued to use trans-fats long after we learned better -- it took a little R&D to learn how to use unsaturated cis fats and get the same shelf life.

Sorting out the components of dietary fat from other influences on CVD at the population level is really tough because so much else is going on. The best kind of evidence is from the Framingham Heart Study and other prospective studies, but it takes a loooonnnng time to get results.