Thursday, June 05, 2008

American Heart Association's My Fats Translator

The American Heart Association (AHA) has an online tool called:
My Fats Translator
"A calculator that translates our fat recommendations into daily limits just for you."
The calculator returns:
  • Daily calorie needs (including BMI, and where it falls on an underweight-overweight scale)
  • Recommended range for total fats
  • Limits for bad fats: saturated and trans

I tried it. Below were some recommendations. (The same examples were given for all my various entries.)


I can see right off the bat the AHA doesn't go in for behavior modification. Pizza for pizza, fries for fries, burger for burger.

In this next one, a biscuit instead of a croissant, I included some breakdown to show that this substitution provides the same number of calories as the original ... and 3 grams of trans fat, where the original had none. (If there was one fat everyone might agree is worth limiting.)


Next they throw sense to the wind and recommend the same exact item, but 0.5 ounces less of it. Both contain the same amount of saturated fat and cholesterol, fats the AHA call "bad" and need replacing.


You may as well tell someone they don't have to change anything about their fast food diet, just eat 1 or 2 bites less of it. Okay, I'm being hard on them. They did include an "Or Even Better" substitution that occasionally broke trend.

These types of substitutions aren't going to dent the health profile of someone with heart disease. For an organization that brought in close to a billion dollars last year, you'd think they could come up with something a little more pronounced. If I was more cynical I'd say the AHA had an interest in keeping Americans fat ... or at least dependent on a highly-processed, fast food diet, requiring drugs to tweak lab values.

Out of curiosity, I checked to see who some of their big contributors were, who they might in some way be beholden to. Here's the list for those who gave between $1,000,000 – 4,999,999 last year: 1

Bristol-Myers Squibb
The Bugher Foundation
Campbell’s Soup
John K. Castle
ConAgra Foods (Healthy Choice)
The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
Kenneth L. Mink Co.
King Pharmaceuticals
KOS Pharmaceuticals
Merck & Co.
Merrill Lynch Employee Giving Campaign
Novartis Pharmaceuticals
Pfizer Pharmaceuticals
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Ross Stores, Inc.
Subway® Restaurants

Ten of the top 23 donors are drug companies, 11 if I count the pharmacy Walgreens. Big commercial food manufacturers (Campbell's, ConAgra, Kellogg's, and Subway) also contribute a sizable portion. I really don't want my cynicism to win out here.
1 You can see the rest of their donors in their 2007 annual report (pdf).

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