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:

  1. Australia 41
  2. France 41
  3. Spain 41
  4. Belgium 40
  5. Bermuda 40
  6. Cyprus 40
  7. Iceland 40
  8. 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.

251505_10151024760092405_1633409149_nSkyler 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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Connected

Enter your email to keep up with the latest from EE

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Stay Up to Date

Sign up for the latest from EE

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.