Fun With Numbers: Fat Intake and Life Expectancy
Now, as much as I love the idea of The Economist (the magazine, not Ben Bernanke), I’ve never actually read a full issue. An informal survey of my (relatively affluent, highly intellectual, very good looking) client base confirms that nobody on planet Earth has read a whole issue of The Economist. I believe there is a job that pays just to read the whole issue every week.
That said, every year The Economist does us a solid and releases the “Pocket World in Figures” which has all sorts of crazy stats, like who had the highest rate of inflation (Belarus, 59.2%) or who produces the most cocoa (Côte d’Ivoire, 1,486,000 tons). However the figures that I’m interested in are fat consumption and longevity per country.
There is a list of countries by fat consumption, noting who has the highest average percent in the world. It looks like this:
- Australia 41
- France 41
- Spain 41
- Belgium 40
- Bermuda 40
- Cyprus 40
- Iceland 40
- Italy 40
Now if we compare their fat intake to their life expectancy in years (and rank) it looks like this:
7. Australia 82.1 yrs
8. Iceland 82.0 yrs
Italy 82.0 yrs
11. Spain 81.8 yrs
12. France 81.7 yrs
21. Bermuda 80.8 yrs
33. Belgium 80.0 yrs
36. Cyprus 79.9 yrs
Now unfortunately they do not list the fat intake for all countries, but this begs the question: how can similar fat intake result in such different life expectancies? The short version: there’s a whole lot more to life expectancy than just fat intake.
This is where the model breaks down: when a country (typically France) eats a lot of fat and lives a long time, they call it a “paradox.” It’s only a “paradox” because it doesn’t fit the model, which is that “high fat intake leads to heart disease leads to death.” So instead of changing the model, the label a country “paradoxical” and move on trying to prop up a faulty model.
A great example of this is the clip below, where Dr. Malcolm Kendrick looks at the data compiled from the WHO MONICA study, which is the largest heart disease study ever undertaken. Have a watch:
So what’s the take away? There is a LOT that can happen between when you eat food and what your body does with it. It is very difficult to pin health and longevity on one single data point. It’s interesting in creating better questions for investigation, but there is too much noise between that first point and an outcome of lifespan changes.
Skyler Tanner is an Efficient Exercise Master Trainer and holds his MS in Exercise Science. He enjoys teaching others about the power of proper exercise and how it positively affects functional mobility and the biomarkers of aging.