The answer was: “Public Health England advises that people should consume on average no more than 11% of their food energy as saturated fat. This advice is based on recommendations made to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) in 1984, an expert committee who advised the government on nutrition.
COMA based its recommendations on a review of the scientific evidence available at the time. Since then, the government has continued to monitor developments in the evidence base on saturated fat and cardiovascular disease. There is consistent evidence from recent trials to show reducing saturated fat consumption lowers blood cholesterol, which in turn decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
30 years old
The COMA report is nearly 30 years old and any evidence would have been even older. Also, it is odd that the answer did not refer to another COMA report in 1994. After all, 20 years old sounds less than 30!
In searching online in vain for the 1984 report, I found something much more interesting. A 2000 paper by Mark Bufton, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in Epidemiology and Society, titled ‘Yesterday’s Science and Policy: Diet and Disease Revisited’, commenting on the findings of the 1994 COMA report and the interrelationship between media and government policy. He mentioned a 1974 COMA report about which the Labour minister had said: “it was frankly impossible to get an agreed conclusion from the panel”. No action was taken.
'Evidence against saturated fats'
Bufton asks: “What in the policy domain is enough evidence to constitute proof that can be used as a spur for action?” He notes that the answer is not fixed. He also says the 1984 COMA report “concluded that the evidence against saturated fats fell short of proof”.
Moreover, one member of the Committee, Professor JRA Mitchell, Nottingham University, “strongly disagreed” that there was a high probability of a causal link between the level of saturated fat intake and the risk of coronary heart disease. An independent physiologist was also sceptical. Nevertheless, Bufton says: “the lack of consensus did not prevent the report being used as a basis for recommendations”.
The present government should be asked to set out “the consistent evidence from recent trials”.
This article was first published in our sister magazine Food Manufacture.