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Original research article
Evidence from randomised controlled trials does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Zoë Harcombe1,
  2. Julien S Baker1,
  3. James J DiNicolantonio2,
  4. Fergal Grace1 and
  5. Bruce Davies3
  1. 1Institute of Clinical Exercise and Health Science, University of the West of Scotland, Lanarkshire, UK
  2. 2Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
  3. 3University of South Wales, Pontypridd, UK
  1. Correspondence to Zoë Harcombe; Zoe.Harcombe{at}


Objectives National dietary guidelines were introduced in 1977 and 1983, by the USA and UK governments, respectively, with the ambition of reducing coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality by reducing dietary fat intake. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis by the present authors, examining the randomised controlled trial (RCT) evidence available to the dietary committees during those time periods, found no support for the recommendations to restrict dietary fat. The present investigation extends our work by re-examining the totality of RCT evidence relating to the current dietary fat guidelines.

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

Results The systematic review included 62 421 participants in 10 dietary trials: 7 secondary prevention studies, 1 primary prevention and 2 combined. The death rates for all-cause mortality were 6.45% and 6.06% in the intervention and control groups, respectively. The risk ratio (RR) from meta-analysis was 0.991 (95% CI 0.935 to 1.051). The death rates for CHD mortality were 2.16% and 1.80% in the intervention and control groups, respectively. The RR was 0.976 (95% CI 0.878 to 1.084). Mean serum cholesterol levels decreased in all intervention groups and all but one control group. The reductions in mean serum cholesterol levels were significantly greater in the intervention groups; this did not result in significant differences in CHD or all-cause mortality.

Conclusions The current available evidence found no significant difference in all-cause mortality or CHD mortality, resulting from the dietary fat interventions. RCT evidence currently available does not support the current dietary fat guidelines. The evidence per se lacks generalisability for population-wide guidelines.


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