Listening to The American Heart Association About As Unhealthy as Listening to Tobacco Ads in the 50's
But that’s the whole point.
A few days ago, a friend shared an article in a private Facebook group and it immediately caught my eye. And then, I Fucking Love Science sold out. And then my Filipino friend shared it.
“Coconut Oil is as Unhealthy as Beef Fat”
The American Heart Association (AHA) would be wise to consider the history of this rhetoric. After all, it’s been down this road before with disastrous consequences.
In the 1980s the AHA developed enormously influential guidelines on cholesterol and diet. These guidelines helped spark the campaign against dietary fat and had the catastrophic consequence of pushing people to consume more carbohydrates, including sugar, instead of fat and protein.
It hasn’t ended well — recent research shows people who followed AHA guidelines to eat more vegetable polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and less saturated fat, didn’t improve.
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.” — Aldous Huxley
The AHA is back pushing the same message through mainstream media networks.
The difference this time around, is that there has been significant scientific research discrediting their theories, and the Internet is largely rebutting the advice.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
But has the AHA ever really considered alternative theories?
Alternative theories don’t support their revenue, or the revenue of their many corporate supporters, which include Monsanto, Big Pharma companies like Amarin, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer, as well as lobby groups like Ag Canada, and the Canola Oil Council.
I do need to add a disclaimer — I own a Coconut Oil Company. However, my company markets coconut oil for skincare, so I don’t have a bias against these statements, in the context of my company. I do, however, care about the coconut farming communities of developing nations, primarily The Philippines of which more than 60% live in extreme poverty and have faced significant devaluing of their commodity throughout the last century.
The general argument that coconut oil is unhealthy goes back to the 1940s when there was a shortage on vegetable oils like coconut oil, due to WW2 and the occupation of the pacific.
This was an opportunity, and American manufactured vegetable oils began marketing campaigns that saturated fats were bad and unsaturated fats were good. In particular, the producers of margarine, cooking oil and other derivatives of vegetable oils sought to displace coconut oil as the preferred frying oil.
They conducted a study in which rats were fed coconut oil as their only fat, which resulted in an increase in cholesterol in the blood serum. “However, it later became clear that any diet lacking in certain essential fatty acids (such as omega-3 alpha linolenic acid) will cause a rise in cholesterol as the health of the experimental animal deteriorates.”
Coconut oil does not contain these essential fatty acids, so (obviously) a healthy diet needs those from other sources for balanced nutrition.
Regardless, the lack of scientific soundness of the early dietary study on coconut oil was ignored by the marketers of the unsaturated fats that contained essential fatty acids, and they persuaded regulatory authorities including the AHA, politicians, and ultimately the population that this was the case.
The source of coconut oil — small economies of the less-developed world — had no chance.
Walter Willett, the chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, is the spokesman of the longest-running and most comprehensive diet and health studies ever performed.
Data from the studies on over 300,000 people, clearly contradicts the low-fat-is-good-health message ‘’and the idea that all fat is bad for you; the exclusive focus on adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic’’, says Willet. “An obesity epidemic that started around the early 1980’s, is coincident with the rise of the low-fat dogma.”
The researchers say that low-fat weight-loss diets have proved in clinical trials and real life to be dismal failures, and that on top of it all, the percentage of fat in the American diet has been decreasing for two decades. “Our cholesterol levels have been declining, and we have been smoking less, and yet the incidence of heart disease has not declined as would be expected.”
The percentage of obese Americans was consistent through the 1960’s and 1970’s at 13 percent to 14 percent. However, the percentage shot up by 8 percentage points in the 1980’s. By the end of that decade, nearly one in four Americans was obese. Overweight children nearly tripled in number. And for the first time, physicians began diagnosing Type 2 diabetes, which often accompanies obesity, in adolescents.
It used to be called adult-onset diabetes.
The AHA campaigns peaked in late 1984, when the National Institutes of Health officially recommended that all Americans over the age of 2 eat less fat.
“The food industry quickly began producing thousands of reduced-fat food products to meet the new recommendations. Fat was removed from foods like cookies, chips and yogurt. The problem was, it had to be replaced with something as tasty and pleasurable to the palate, which meant some form of sugar, often high-fructose corn syrup. Meanwhile, an entire industry emerged to create fat substitutes, of which Procter & Gamble’s olestra was first. And because these reduced-fat meats, cheeses, snacks and cookies had to compete with a few hundred thousand other food products marketed in America, the industry dedicated considerable advertising effort to reinforcing the less-fat-is-good-health message.”
Helping the cause was what Walter Willett calls the ‘’huge forces’’ of dietitians, health organizations, consumer groups, health reporters and even cookbook writers, all well-intended missionaries of healthful eating.
Not Really. Mom was Fooled.
It is important to take a deeper look at the credibility and the ethics of the American Heart Association, which was founded by a group of cardiologists in 1924 with a purpose to fight heart disease and stroke by funding research, promoting certain public health policies, and providing education to the public.
Cool purpose. But the facts don’t lie.
Research shows that the theories adopted and promoted by the AHA are making the problem worse, not better.
Heart disease is (still)the leading cause of death in the United States.
How could a health organization that has been around for almost 100 years fail so miserably with regards to their purpose?
The AHA gets their funding from corporate sponsors and also allows companies to purchase a “seal of approval”, known as the Heart Check Program, that can be put on certain food products that meet specific criteria.
In 2015 the AHA received $696,658,685 in Gifts, grants, contributions, and membership fees received, about 84% of the $830,379,423 they generated in revenue. $29,753,423 alone came in the form of direct support from Pharmaceutical Companies and Device Manufacturers, some of which make and market Statins.
The writers of the AHA’s 2013 statin guidelines, “a new clinical practice guideline for the treatment of blood cholesterol in people at high risk for cardiovascular diseases caused by atherosclerosis, or hardening and narrowing of the arteries, that can lead to heart attack, stroke or death”, based their recommendations on studies that looked at the reduction in the risk of events like heart attacks in people treated with statins, compared to people on a placebo. “However, the AHA dietary guidelines do not cite any diet studies that looked at whether following a specific diet lowered the risk of developing cardiac events.”
Oh, and 7 of the 15 authors disclosed ties to (the statin) industry.
The AHA’s Go Red For Women heart disease awareness campaign proclaimed that “Zocor and Pravachol — have the fewest side effects,” and “statins may only slightly increase diabetes risks.” However, The Women’s Health Initiative, a federal study of over 160,000 healthy women to investigate the most common causes of death, disability and poor quality of life in postmenopausal women, showed that a healthy woman’s risk of developing diabetes was increased 48 percent compared to women who were not on a statin.
Dr. Robert H. Eckel, the co-chair of the panel that wrote the guidelines, is a consultant for Foodminds, which specializes “in food, beverage, nutrition, health and wellness.” Foodminds works with more than 30 leading food, beverage, and nutrition to offer a “one stop shop of…consulting…to guide food and beverage companies in navigating the complexities around the upcoming FDA Nutrition Facts label overhaul.”
What a surprise. Foodminds is a lobbying firm.
And then there is this:
Dr. Eckel describes himself as “a scientist and professing six-day creationist and a member of the technical advisory board of the Institute for Creation Research…” Eckel believes there is scientific proof that the world was created in six days and that evolution does not exist.
The co-chair of an influential panel charged with giving scientifically sound dietary advice has a financial conflict of interest and proselytizes for beliefs that are anti-scientific.
In other news.
A few years later, the AHA has attempted to re-polish its executive buff.
The new AHA executive leading the charge against coconut oil is Sam Chadha, the same guy that used to run marketing for Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast-food chains. “It’s a privilege to work with a legendary brand icon, entrusted with a rich portfolio of science-based trustworthy content that can meet people, communities and professionals where they are in a connected world, while impacting and saving lives”, says Chadha.
Greg Donaldson will guide the nationwide communications function in the execution and implementation of comprehensive, data driven, omni-channel communications strategies and initiatives for the AHA. Most recently, he worked as an independent consultant providing strategic communications counsel to clients, including one of the nation’s largest investor-owned hospital corporations.
I have 2 questions.
- How can for profit hospitals make profit when America is healthy?
- How can big pharma, the makers of statins and other drugs, make profit when America is healthy?
As if the AHA has a goal of further cementing their conflict of interest, the heart check program has been a huge money maker. In 2014 there were 889 foods labelled as “heart-healthy”, at a cost of approximately $7500 per seal of approval.
Ten percent of these “heart healthy” foods are processed meats, despite significant research showing that processed, high-sodium meats raise blood pressure, the risk of cardiovascular disease and the risk of diabetes. Even more problematic are the foods containing added sugar. The AHA recommends that women consume less than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) of sugar a day and less than 9 teaspoons (150 calories) for men. Yet there are items that get the nod of approval from the Heart Check program despite being near or at the sugar limit.
For example, they allow yogurt double the sugar content of ice cream per serving. Non-dessert products eligible for certification include “breads; biscuits; cereals (ready-to-eat and cooked); crackers; pancakes; French toast; waffles; muffins; and sweet quick-type breads.” At this point, it’s undeniable that these foods contribute to insulin resistance, inflammation, and metabolic disorders which, in turn, cause heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
What we can clearly understand about the AHA (aside from it’s insanely poor dietary advice), is that this health association founded to help reduce the leading cause of death in America, is being lobbied and accepting sponsorships from corporations and individuals who have conflicts of interest.
What is difficult to understand, is how the AHA has been able to perpetuate their deadly theories for half a century without consequence.
The sad fact is that these situations are not uncommon.
Ironically, my girlfriend started watching a documentary called What The Health, unknowingly, as I write this article. The documentary makes some strong arguments against many health agencies and government subsidiaries, and is an interesting watch from what I gathered.
Ultimately, people are getting 2 things from health associations like the AHA.
I don’t know if the founders of the AHA always had a plan to profit, but somewhere along the way their purpose changed from fighting heart disease and stroke, to propagating the agenda of corporations; to generate revenue for whomever is willing to write a check.
It’s been a “pay to play” game for as long as research shows.
But clearly this will never change unless we facilitate the change.
As one of my favorites, Yvon Chouinard, says
“If you want to change government, change the corporations, and government will follow. If you want to change corporations, change consumers.”
Share this message and do what you can to avoid supporting these organizations.