Last week, DiSH RA Emma Schopp attended a talk called “The Science and Politics of How Nutrition Got It Wrong on Fat and Cholesterol” with investigative journalist Nina Teicholz and host Dr. Aaron Blaisdell of the UCLA Psychology Department. Here’s what Emma had to say about the talk:
Last Wednesday, investigative journalist Nina Teicholz visited UCLA to give a talk about the politics and science that led to the villainization of fat by public health officials, as discussed in her controversial book, The Big Fat Surprise. As I am very interested in public health and the multitude of effects that food can have, I was excited to hear directly from someone who had delved so deeply into the research, policy, and history of this field.
Teicholz did not disappoint, providing a fascinating history of the creation and implementation of national nutritional guidelines that entirely contradict current research. She described the actions of politicians and scientists, like Ancel Keyes, who, amidst panic over rising rates of heart disease in the 1950s, was able to convince leaders at the American Heart Association that saturated fats and cholesterol led to heart disease. Although his hypothesis was backed only by biased, correlational studies such as the Seven Countries Study, his conclusions led to the first ever dietary guidelines released by the USDA in 1980, which advised a diet low in fat and coincided with the beginning of a sharp increase in obesity rates in the US, which we are still experiencing today.
Teicholz explained that these guidelines had widespread effects, such as determining the food served in the military (an organization which today has an enormous obesity issue), changing the available food supply to comply with new “healthy” demands, and embedding into the minds of Americans that fat is unhealthy, despite experimental evidence to the contrary, such as the 1960s Minnesota Coronary Heart Study. This study, and others like it that showed that high fat diets had no detrimental effects, were ignored and buried by the scientists and leaders in nutrition policy, whose views these studies did not support.
Teicholz ended her discussion by sharing some of the information that has been supported by reliable, NIH-funded studies in the past decade, including that saturated fat and cholesterol don’t cause heart disease, low fat diets are ineffective, and that fat does not cause cancer. She discussed some preliminary research supporting the Carbohydrate-Insulin Hypothesis, which posits that increased carbohydrate consumption has led to obesity, possibly because of the way that carbohydrates are metabolized in the body.
Teicholz’s presentation emphasized the importance of ensuring that all fields remain transparent and open to contributors challenging and testing all findings. A strength of the scientific community is its ability to check itself, and to remain impartial and skeptical until enough supporting evidence has supported a hypothesis. By conducting research objectively in the DiSH Lab, we can be confident that our contributions to the field of health psychology are evidence based and will benefit society.
We’re glad to hear that you enjoyed the talk, Emma!