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[Press Conference, Friday, January 14, 1977, Room 457, Dirksen Senate Office Building]

STATEMENT OF DR. D. M. HEGSTED, PROFESSOR OF NUTRITION,
HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

The diet of the American people has become increasingly rich-rich in meat, other sources of saturated fat and cholesterol, and in sugar. There will be people who will contest this statement. It has been pointed out repeatedly that total sugar use has remained relatively constant for a number of years. We would emphasize, however, that our total food consumption has fallen even though we still eat too much relative to our needs. Thus, the proportion of the total diet contributed by fatty and cholesterol-rich foods and by refined foods has risen. We might be better able to tolerate this diet if we were much more active physically, but we are a sedentary people.

It should be emphasized that this diet which affluent people generally consume is everywhere associated with a similar disease pattern-high rates of ischemic heart disease, certain forms of cancer, diabetes, and obesity. These are the major causes of death and disability in the United States. These so-called degenerative diseases obviously become more important now that infectious diseases are, relatively speaking, under good control. I wish to emphasize that these diseases undoubtedly have a complex etiology. It is not correct, strictly speaking, to say that they are caused by malnutrition but rather that an inappropriate diet contributes to their causation. Our genetic makeup contributes-not all people are equally susceptible. Yet those who are genetically susceptible, most of us, are those who would profit most from an appropriate diet. Diet is one of the things we can change if we want to.

There will undoubtedly be many people who will say we have not proven our point; we have not yet demonstrated that the dietary modifications we recommend will yield the dividends expected. We would point out to these people that the diet we eat today was not planned or developed for any particular purpose. It is a happenstance related to our affluence, the productivity of our farmers and the activities of our food industry. The risks associated with eating this diet are demonstrably large. The question to be asked therefore is not why should we change our diet, but why not? What are the risks associated with eating less meat, less fat, less saturated fat, less cholesterol, less sugar, less salt, and more fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fat, and cereal products-especially whole grain cereals. There are none that can be identified and important benefits can be expected.

Ischemic heart disease, cancer, diabetes and hypertension are the diseases that kill us. They are epidemic in our population. We cannot afford to temporize. We have an obligation to inform the public of the current state of knowledge and to assist the public in making the correct food choices. To do less is to avoid our responsibility.

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