American Heart Association: Trustworthy?

Did you know that the American Heart Association pulls in huge sums of money each year from food manufacturers like Kellogg’s and General Mills?

In return, the AHA provides an endorsement for the food industry products made by these corporations.

For each of the approximately 630 “heart-healthy” logos on cereal boxes or other food products, the AHA gets a cool $7500 a year.

Well actually, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reports that the AHA charges companies on a per-product basis: $7,500 for 1-9 products, $6,750 for 10-24 products and $5,940 for 25-99 products in their first year.

To renew in subsequent years, the prices are $4,500, $4,050, and $3,570 respectively.

CSPI estimates that in 2002, with over 630 products certified, the AHA received over $2 million dollars from its food certification program.

The foods the AHA “recommends” include chocolate milk, high sugar breakfast cereals, processed meat products full of chemicals, and other unhealthy products.

In fact, the AHA is endorsing foods that are making people sick. We have solid evidence showing that a high carbohydrate, low-fat diet, such as the one the AHA recommends, has the effect of elevated blood glucose, blood insulin levels, and increased arterial inflammation. All of these conditions contribute to heart disease.

The high carb, low-fat diet is a bust. Obesity is on the rise, as is diabetes, and cancer. Heart disease has not declined as it should have if the low-fat diet worked.

And yet the AHA continues to endorse low fat, sugary foods, and push a low-fat diet. Why would they do such an ignorant thing? Money, perhaps?

The Cost of Belief in The Low Fat Diet…

For fiscal year 2006-7, the American Heart Association’s total income was almost $800 million dollars.

Consider this: what would happen if the American Heart Association suddenly started telling doctors and the public that the highly processed, low fat, sugary foods it currently recommends are not healthy and that in fact, the evidence shows that eating these foods along with a low-fat diet actually increases your risk of heart disease?

The loss of revenue and prestige would be severe and crippling. Support from the drug and food companies would fall off dramatically, I’d bet, and the billion dollars in assets the AHA holds would go right down the drain.

That’s a lot of money to throw away by reversing positions on the low-fat hypothesis.

So, it’s clear why they look the other way. The American Heart Association, an organization which was created to help us actually puts money and image before the health of the American people. I’d call that a scam operation.

So should you trust what the AHA tells you about nutrition and health? In my opinion, no. Why?

Because they ignore the volumes of evidence which show that eating less fat and cholesterol has absolutely no effect on blood cholesterol levels, and in turn, no effect on the risk of heart disease. The AHA ignores the overwhelming evidence for their own gain, and without care for the health of the American people.

Sylvan Lee Weinberg, MD, MACC puts it best. Dr. Weinberg was a past president of the American College of Cardiology and in a paper titled: The Diet-Heart Hypothesis: A Critique he writes:

The low-fat “diet–heart hypothesis” has been controversial for nearly 100 years. The low-fat–high-carbohydrate diet, promulgated vigorously by the National Cholesterol Education Program, National Institutes of Health, and American Heart Association since the Lipid Research Clinics-Primary Prevention Program in 1984, and earlier by the U.S. Department of Agriculture food pyramid, may well have played an unintended role in the current epidemics of obesity, lipid abnormalities, type II diabetes, and metabolic syndromes.


This diet can no longer be defended by appeal to the authority of prestigious medical organizations or by rejecting clinical experience and a growing medical literature suggesting that the much-maligned low-carbohydrate–high-protein diet may have a salutary effect on the epidemics in question. (J Am Coll Cardiol 2004;43:731-3)

I believe the AHA is aware of its role in these epidemics but refuses to back down on its defense of the low-fat diet, primarily because it would lose funding.

You can read up on the ties that the AHA has to food and drug companies here.

Mouse on A Wheel

The AHA has a mission statement on their website:

The mission of the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is: “Building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.” The AHA’s impact goal is to reduce coronary heart disease, stroke and risk by 25 percent by 2010. Progress toward the goal will be measured according to these indicators:

  • Reduce the death rate from coronary heart disease and stroke by 25 percent.
  • Reduce the prevalence of smoking, high blood cholesterol and physical inactivity by 25 percent.
  • Reduce the rate of uncontrolled high blood pressure by 25 percent.
  • Eliminate the growth of obesity and diabetes.

Irony at its Best

This mission statement is ironic to me because it is totally unreachable, given the strategy that the AHA has devised to reach these goals.

Their strategy is to tell all Americans over the age of 2 (2!! Ridiculous!) to eat the following way:

  • Limit total fat intake to less than 25–35 percent of your total calories each day;
  • Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of total daily calories;
  • Limit trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of total daily calories;
  • The remaining fat should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils; and
  • Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day, for most people. If you have coronary heart disease or your LDL cholesterol level is 100 mg/dL or greater, limit your cholesterol intake to less than 200 milligrams a day.

This is a low fat, high carbohydrate diet recommendation, based on the old “saturated fat causes heart disease” hypothesis.

Scientific research has shown that the low fat, high carbohydrate diet the AHA endorses is MORE LIKELY TO INCREASE the death rate from coronary heart disease and stroke. A low fat, high carb diet has also been implicated in the rising rates of diabetes, elevated blood pressure, and cancer.

I picture the AHA as a mouse, running on a wheel, trying to get to a piece of cheese on the outside of the wheel. They’ll never get there, because the wheel they’re on doesn’t go anywhere, and that’s the way they like it.

If they continue to raise funds and spend money toward unattainable goals, they’ll always have a reason to stay in business, won’t they?

No Answers

I recently sent an email to the American Heart Association asking how businesses get that little “heart-healthy” logo on their products.

I got a very nice, very vague, very self-congratulatory email from them telling me how angelic they were to have such a program.

I wrote the woman back and said:

Ms. Rupp, thank you for the information below. I understand what factors are involved in a product qualifying for Food Certification from the AHA… However, I still would like to know what each product certification costs the food product manufacturer.

I would also like to know what drives the setting of the criteria used in the Food certification program. What are the criteria/recommendations based on? In other words, how does the AHA determine a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low/no-fat dairy and lean meats is the right one to push?

I have yet to get an answer.

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