September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, an observance sponsored by the American College of Sports Medicine and promoted by the US Department of Health and Human Services. One-third of US children and adolescents are either overweight or obese and during the past 30 years obesity has more than doubled among children while quadrupling among adolescents.1, 2
The government’s efforts to boost childhood obesity awareness are commendable, but some of their proposed solutions are at odds with modern scientific research, especially those concerning dietary fat. This is where the Paleo community can help immensely.
The government’s official campaign webpage features many excellent recommendations, like limiting screen time, getting outside and being more active, eating more fruits and vegetables, and eating less sugar. Alongside this good advice, however, is misguided advice regarding fat: “Reducing fat and saturated fat in your family’s diet is important to maintaining heart health and reducing calories.”3 Furthermore, they provide parents with a “Cooking with Healthier Fats and Oils” guide, which recommends canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean oils, while discouraging lard, tallow, and coconut oil.4 In other words, the government’s fat recommendations are opposite those of the Paleo Diet.5
One problem with the government’s recommended fat intake is it contains proportionally too much polyunsaturated omega-6. We require small amounts of omega-6, but excessive consumption, as per most Western diets, promotes various degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and certain inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.6 For over two decades, scientists have known that polyunsaturated omega-6, not saturated fat, is problematic. A 1994 study published in The Lancet, for example, concluded, “These findings imply a direct influence of dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids on aortic plaque formation and suggest that current trends favouring increased intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids should be reconsidered.”7
In the 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers replaced dietary saturated fat with omega-6, noting, “Advice to substitute polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats is a key component of worldwide dietary guidelines for coronary heart disease risk reduction. However, clinical benefits of the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid, omega-6 linoleic acid, have not been established.” The researchers found that substituting omega-6 in place of saturated fat increases all-cause mortality, including coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease mortality.8 In short, the Paleo Diet recommends the healthiest fat sources, whereas the government currently encourages the worst.
In honor of National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, as a community we need actively participate by emphasizing our areas of agreement (less sugar, less screen time, more physical activity), while gently, and diplomatically highlighting the inconsistencies between their fat recommendations and the salient published scientific literature.
Help reverse childhood obesity and support the Institute of Responsible Nutrition. Donate today!
Christopher James Clark, B.B.A. is an award-winning writer, consultant, and chef with specialized knowledge in nutritional science and healing cuisine. He has a Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan and formerly worked as a revenue management analyst for a Fortune 100 company. For the past decade-plus, he has been designing menus, recipes, and food concepts for restaurants and spas, coaching private clients, teaching cooking workshops worldwide, and managing the kitchen for a renowned Greek yoga resort. Clark is the author of the critically acclaimed, award-winning book, Nutritional Grail.
1. Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. (February, 2014). Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. Journal of the American Medical Association, 311(8). Retrieved August 18, 2014 from //jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1832542
2. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2011: With Special Features on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Hyattsville, MD; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2014 from //www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm
3. US Department of Health and Human Services. Limit Fat and Sugar. Retrieved August 18, 2014 from //www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eat-right/limit-fat-sugar.htm
4. National Institutes of Health. We Can! Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition. Parents Tips: Cooking with Healthier Fats and Oils. Retrieved August 18, 2014 from //www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/downloads/tip-fats-and-oils.pdf
5. Cordain, Loren, Ph.D. “Cooking Oils and Mushrooms | The Paleo Diet | Dr. Loren Cordain.” The Paleo Diet. The Paleo Diet, LLC, 2013. Web. 19 Aug. 2014 from //thepaleodiet.com/cooking-oils-mushrooms-and-the-paleo-diet-2/
6. Simopoulos, AP. (October 2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 56(8). Retrieved August 18, 2014 from //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12442909
7. Felton, CV., et al. (October 1994). Dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids and composition of human aortic plaques. The Lancet, 344(8931). Retrieved August 18, 2014 from //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7934543
8. Ramsden, C., et al. (February, 2013). Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis. The British Medical Journal, 346. Retrieved August 18, 2014 from //www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.e8707