The Fats Of Life Revealed

The Fats Of Life Revealed

A new study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found omega-3 deficient diets cause up to 96,000 preventable deaths annually in the United States.

PLoS Med. 2009 Apr 28;6(4):e1000058. Epub 2009 Apr 28.

The preventable causes of death in the United States: comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors.


Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.

Erratum in PLoS Med. 2011 Jan;8(1). doi: 10.1371/annotation/0ef47acd-9dcc-4296-a897-872d182cde57.


Knowledge of the number of deaths caused by risk factors is needed for health policy and priority setting. Our aim was to estimate the mortality effects of the following 12 modifiable dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors in the United States (US) using consistent and comparable methods: high blood glucose, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and blood pressure; overweight–obesity; high dietary trans fatty acids and salt; low dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids (seafood), and fruits and vegetables; physical inactivity; alcohol use; and tobacco smoking.

Methods and Findings

We used data on risk factor exposures in the US population from nationally representative health surveys and disease-specific mortality statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics. We obtained the etiological effects of risk factors on disease-specific mortality, by age, from systematic reviews and meta-analyses of epidemiological studies that had adjusted (i) for major potential confounders, and (ii) where possible for regression dilution bias. We estimated the number of disease-specific deaths attributable to all non-optimal levels of each risk factor exposure, by age and sex. In 2005, tobacco smoking and high blood pressure were responsible for an estimated 467,000 (95% confidence interval [CI] 436,000–500,000) and 395,000 (372,000–414,000) deaths, accounting for about one in five or six deaths in US adults. Overweight–obesity (216,000; 188,000–237,000) and physical inactivity (191,000; 164,000–222,000) were each responsible for nearly 1 in 10 deaths. High dietary salt (102,000; 97,000–107,000), low dietary omega-3 fatty acids (84,000; 72,000–96,000), and high dietary trans fatty acids (82,000; 63,000–97,000) were the dietary risks with the largest mortality effects. Although 26,000 (23,000–40,000) deaths from ischemic heart disease, ischemic stroke, and diabetes were averted by current alcohol use, they were outweighed by 90,000 (88,000–94,000) deaths from other cardiovascular diseases, cancers, liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, alcohol use disorders, road traffic and other injuries, and violence.

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