People In Finland Ate Less Saturated Fat, Lowered Their Deaths From Heart Disease

I’ve been reading about the North Karelia Project. Here’s an overview from the University of Minnesota:

A History of Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology: North Karelia Project

North Karelia is a small province in eastern Finland, a rural area with about 180,000 inhabitants. In the 1960s, Finland was reported to have the highest death rate from heart disease in the industrialized world, and North Karelia had Finland’s highest rate. So, in 1972, Finnish authorities along with the World Health Organization conducted a community-based intervention to improve Karelians’ health. Schools, supermarkets, health services, local media, even the food industry got involved. Their immediate objectives were to reduce cigarette smoking, blood pressure, and especially serum cholesterol:

An important focus of the overall program was to reduce population serum cholesterol levels through dietary change because of the presumed role in the high CVD rates of Finland. This was accomplished through widespread reductions in saturated fat intake and concomitant increases in the consumption of vegetables and polyunsaturated fats.

There was a significant net reduction in saturated fat intake of 20% in men and 14% in women over the first 10 years under study. These dietary changes were associated with a significant reduction in average total cholesterol levels in men residing in North Karelia compared to the reference area of Kuopio; however, these changes were not seen in women. [Smoking rates for women increased during that time.]

Also, from Dietary Changes In The North Karelia Project (1972–1982), Preventative Medicine, March 1988

A major shift from whole to low-fat milk took place in both areas as well as a reduction in the amount of butter used on bread. The net reduction in North Karelia (difference in change compared with the reference area) in the intake of saturated fatty acids from milk and fat spreads used on bread was 20% in men and 14% in women. This reduction was similar in different age, education, and occupational groups suggesting that the dietary intervention had reached the whole community. The validity of the reported dietary changes was confirmed by parallel changes in serum cholesterol levels.

So, they were successful is getting people to eat less saturated fat. That lowered their cholesterol. Did it also lower death rates? It did:

Over the course of the study, mortality from CHD declined in North Karelia by 73% and by 65% throughout Finland. In men, mortality from cerebrovascular disease and lung cancer also declined in men and women and more in Karelia than Kuopio.

Something really weird is going on in this country and I think it’s a result of our corporate oligarchy. (I’m not making that up. A recent study from Princeton said that “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”) The public health message to eat less saturated fat – less meat and dairy – is being supplanted by a message to eat more meat and dairy, a message that’s being influenced by the Dairy Institute, the Beef Institute, the Egg Nutrition Center, and the Atkins Foundation.

We need to get away from using the term “saturated fat” and replace it with foods that contain saturated fat. We need to start saying eat less butter, cheese, eggs, cream, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey. “Saturated fat” was a term chosen by the USDA’s 2000 Dietary Guidelines committee as a euphemism for meat and dairy foods, which supply most of the saturated fat in our diet. The food industry did not want the government telling us to eat less meat and cheese.

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