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Evidence from prospective cohort studies does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Zoë Harcombe1,
  2. Julien S Baker1,
  3. Bruce Davies2
  1. 1Institute of Clinical Exercise and Health Science, University of the West of Scotland, Hamilton, Lanarkshire, UK
  2. 2University of South Wales, Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taff, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Zoë Harcombe, Institute of Clinical Exercise and Health Science, University of West of Scotland, 438 Almada Building, Almada Street, Hamilton, Lanarkshire ML3 0JB, UK; zoe.harcombe{at}


Objectives National dietary guidelines were introduced in 1977 and 1983, by the US and UK governments to reduce coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality by reducing dietary fat intake. Our 2016 systematic review examined the epidemiological evidence available to the dietary committees at the time; we found no support for the recommendations to restrict dietary fat. The present investigation extends our work by re-examining the totality of epidemiological evidence currently available relating to dietary fat guidelines.

Methods A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies currently available, which examined the relationship between dietary fat, serum cholesterol and the development of CHD, were undertaken.

Results Across 7 studies, involving 89 801 participants (94% male), there were 2024 deaths from CHD during the mean follow-up of 11.9±5.6 years. The death rate from CHD was 2.25%. Eight data sets were suitable for inclusion in meta-analysis; all excluded participants with previous heart disease. Risk ratios (RRs) from meta-analysis were not statistically significant for CHD deaths and total or saturated fat consumption. The RR from meta-analysis for total fat intake and CHD deaths was 1.04 (95% CI 0.98 to 1.10). The RR from meta-analysis for saturated fat intake and CHD deaths was 1.08 (95% CI 0.94 to 1.25).

Conclusions Epidemiological evidence to date found no significant difference in CHD mortality and total fat or saturated fat intake and thus does not support the present dietary fat guidelines. The evidence per se lacks generalisability for population-wide guidelines.

  • Public health
  • Heart disease
  • Dietary
  • Cohort study

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  • Twitter Follow Zoe Harcombe at @zoeharcombe

  • Contributors ZH conceived of the study and was the major contributor to data extraction, writing of the manuscript and the meta-analysis. BD was involved in data extraction. All authors were involved in critical evaluation of content.

  • Competing interests ZH receives income from writing and from two small self-employment businesses: The Harcombe Diet Co. and Columbus Publishing.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.