In 1999, a study authored by Prof Nicholas Wald was released entitled: Why heart disease mortality is low in France: the time lag explanation. The study has been widely cited – 23 times alone via PMC in the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine – and at the time, it received a lot of press coverage.
To put it gently, their grounded hypothesis that deaths from heart disease were about to increase rapidly in France did not pan out.
He and Dr Malcolm Law explained how mortality from ischaemic heart disease in France was just one quarter of that in Britain by discounting the much-touted rumour that this was because of greater red wine consumption. They postulated instead that for the French, it was simply a matter of time before they caught up with the British, putting the difference down to the following:
“It is due to the time lag between increases in consumption of animal fat and serum cholesterol concentrations and the resulting increase in mortality from heart disease.”
“Evidence”, they wrote “supports this explanation. Mortality from heart disease across countries, including France, correlates strongly with levels of animal fat consumption and serum cholesterol in the past (30 years ago) but only weakly to recent levels. Based on past levels, mortality data for France are not discrepant”.
So convinced were they of the animal fat/cholesterol linkage that they continued with the 'good news' that: “while the consumption of animal fat leads to a slow increase in the risk of mortality from heart disease, these risks decrease rapidly upon switching to a healthier diet and lifestyle."
And yet… the trouble is, it’s now 2016 and the most recent charts show further decline everywhere, with France (together with Japan) being right down at the bottom of the list… still! Why has France not climbed to American levels as they predicted?
Professor Wald is clearly a distinguished scholar, having gone on to become a member of the Royal Society and been knighted, but I cannot find any retraction of this research, which is typical of many studies that have influenced the low fat era in which we still live.
On such important topics, should we not have a system whereby original authors comment on what they wrote many years ago, particularly when things have not quite worked out quite as they predicted? And when it comes to France, isn’t it time for some official bodies to admit they have been wrong and that the French paradox is in many ways, a French advantage? Then we could officially begin to debate what that advantage is… Hint: It’s not the Mediterranean Diet.
Research quoted: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1115846/
"FAT IS OUR FRIEND" ADVOCATES A DIET:
Sammy Pepys was the pseudonym used by James Capon when writing this book. He is not a doctor or a nutritionist but has studied nutrition and holds an MPH from Edinburgh University. Over the years, he has become increasingly suspicious of today's conventional wisdom about diet and health. When it comes to what we eat, he has helped many learn to eat more healthily.