Low-Fat Diet Study: The Experts Speak Out

Researchers and doctors sound off on the link between diet and disease.

Feb. 7, 2006 — -- In e-mails and phone interviews that ABC News conducted with more than 50 specialists in heart disease, cancer and nutrition, questions were raised about the limitations of a new study of low-fat diets by the Women's Health Initiative. The study said that a low-fat diet didn't reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer in postmenopausal women, at least over an eight-year period.

Here's what the experts had to say:

"This does not mean that diet does not influence breast cancer risk, but it does mean that making a change in your diet to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer is unlikely to be successful. If diet does play a role, it may well be the food that you eat when you are 10, 15, 20, 25 ... that is important, not what you eat at age 50 plus." -- Dr. Eric Winer, director, Breast Cancer Oncology Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

"Eight years for cancer prevention is not sufficient. It takes up to 30 years of smoking to cause cancer. How do you expect eight years of a little better food to prevent breast or other cancers?" -- Dr. Stefan Glück, director, Breast Cancer Institute, University of Miami

"Should these results lead to any changes in public health recommendations? Absolutely not. Remember, the dietary goals of this study were not entirely reached, and there is enough reason to continue with research studies that would tighten up the weaknesses and then see the results." -- Keith-Thomas Ayoob, nutrition and pediatrics professor, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

"We have known all this for a long time, which is why this extremely expensive diet trial part of the Women's Health Initiative failed scientific peer review when it was proposed, and only was funded by political intervention by Congress. It never had much scientific merit because it was not testing a good diet." -- Dr. Meir Stampfer, chair, epidemiology department, Harvard School of Public Health

"These results are consistent with the understanding that the balance between fat, carbohydrate and protein is not the most important factor determining heart disease risk. Bottom line: Low-fat diets are not necessarily more healthy. However, a Mediterranean diet rich in certain vegetable oils and fish is likely beneficial." -- Dr. Steven E. Nissen, vice chairman, department of cardiology, Cleveland Clinic Foundation

"[This information] raises interesting questions but doubt that it will lead to significant changes in current recommendations. The advice to restrict saturated and trans fats will continue. Approaches to cancer screening will remain unchanged." --Dr. Greg Anderson, primary care physician, Mayo Clinic

"My reaction is mostly 'too little change in fat intake for too little time.' The actual difference was only 8-10 percentage points, and for only eight years. Colon cancer, for example, is a 20-30 year disease -- why would we think that such a small intervention for such a short time would have an effect?" --Dr. Thomas L. Schwenk, primary care physician, University of Michigan

"No surprises. Eight years of follow-up is too short a time to show an effect. Let's wait for 15-30 years of follow-up before we judge significance." -- Dr. Michael Fine, physician in chief, department of family medicine, Rhode Island Hospital