Pass the Prime Rib
The largest study ever to ask whether a low-fat diet keeps women from getting cancer or heart disease has found that the diet had no effect.
The $415 million federal study involved nearly 49,000 women aged 50 to 79 who were followed for eight years. In the end, those assigned to a low-fat diet had the same rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attack and stroke as those who ate whatever they pleased, researchers are reporting today.
“These are three totally negative studies,” said Dr. David Freedman, a statistician at the University of California at Berkeley, who is not connected with the study but has written books on clinical trial design and analysis. And, he said, the results should be taken seriously for what they are — a rigorous attempt that failed to confirm a popular hypothesis that a low-fat diet can prevent three major diseases in women.
And the studies were so large and so expensive that they are “the Rolls Royce of studies,” said Dr. Michael Thun, who directs epidemiological research for the American Cancer Society. As such, he said, they are likely to be the final word.
We’ll have to wait and see if the results will be replicated in a study of fat consumption in males, but this study points at an interesting phenomenon: accepting on its face any assertion that what we enjoy has got to be bad for our health. Having recently read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, this has me wondering whether in a few years we’ll still simply choose to believe that low-fat diets will prevent what this study says they do not.