1985: The Year of Whole Grains

In 1985, the National Cholesterol Education Panel delivered its Adult Treatment Panel guidelines to Americans, advice to cut cholesterol intake, reduce saturated fat, and increase "healthy whole grains" to reduce the incidence of heart attack and other cardiovascular events.

Per capita wheat consumption increased accordingly. Wheat consumption today is 26 lbs per year greater than in 1970 and now totals 133 lbs per person per year. (Because infants and children are lumped together with adults, average adult consumption is likely greater than 200 lbs per year, or the equivalent of approximately 300 loaves of bread per year.) Another twist: The mid- and late-1980s also marks the widespread adoption of the genetically-altered dwarf variants of wheat to replace standard-height wheat.

In 1985, the Centers for Disease Control also began to track multiple health conditions, including diabetes. Here is the curve for diabetes:

Note that, from 1958 until 1985, the curve was climbing slowly. After 1985, the curve shifted sharply upward. (Not shown is the data point for 2010, an even steeper upward ascent.) Now diabetes is skyrocketing, projected to afflict 1 in 3 adults in the coming decades.

You think there's a relationship?

Comments (30) -

  • Gabriella Kadar

    4/9/2011 7:30:55 PM |

    The World Health Organization changed impaired fasting glucose levels from 6.9 to 6.1 in 1999.  The curve used to illustrate the incidence of diagnosed type 2 diabetes indicates a steepening at this time.  If data would have been collected for all patients prior to 1999 and utilized as a retrospective for type 2 diabetes in the population, the incidence rate prior to 1999 would likely have been significantly higher.

  • Anonymous

    4/9/2011 8:00:57 PM |

    Very true, Dr. Davis.  Wheat consumption is up since 1970.  The strange thing is, it was much higher in the 19th century...something like 225 pounds per capita.

    historical wheat consumption

    Maybe we were eating fewer total carbs then, or expending more energy, if in fact the recent increase in diabetes is wheat-related.

  • Peter

    4/9/2011 8:11:56 PM |

    I think since so much wheat is eaten in products that are mixtures of wheat, sugar, and vegetable oil, there's no way to know what the culprit is.

  • Botiquin DE Primeros Auxilios

    4/9/2011 9:37:29 PM |

    Well the reason is that wheat is the most important factor for our lives.

  • Dr. William Davis

    4/9/2011 11:59:26 PM |

    Hi, Anon--

    Yes, indeed. Human life was different for at least rural people.

    Also, wheat has changed. This is a crucial, crucial point that explains much of this phenomenon, I believe.

  • Gretchen

    4/10/2011 1:00:56 AM |

    It would be interesting to plot diabetes rates against various possible culprits (pointing out on the graph when diagnostic cutoff changed): wheat, all carbohydrates, size of sodas, computer ownership, average size of restaurant meals, bicycle ownership, hours spent commuting, population older than 65, exposure to Agent Orange, service in Gulf War, and some really silly things like hair length and popular nailpolish colors.

    If only wheat consumption seemed correlated, this would be suggestive.

  • Anonymous

    4/10/2011 4:35:15 AM |

    Wre there ads for All Bran bars and wheat links on this site?

  • Anonymous

    4/10/2011 5:04:08 AM |

    Wheat is ingrained in us, beginning with bread as the "staff of life."

  • Anonymous

    4/10/2011 8:15:51 AM |

    correlation does not equal causation.

    I don't eat wheat, I suffer from all of the problems you describe and it's also related to my psoriasis.  Good hypothesis with all your measurements of post consumption measurement of blood sugars, but someone needs to do a mass study.

  • O Primitivo

    4/10/2011 9:54:59 AM |

    The graph on this post is also very educational:

  • Dr. William Davis

    4/10/2011 2:20:27 PM |

    Hi, Ted--

    Great find!

    I wasn't aware of these data. Yet another way that increased yield comes at a price.

  • Anonymous

    4/10/2011 3:19:02 PM |

    Dramatic changes in the slope of a curve are easy to see if you're looking for them, but you've displayed an arithmetic, not a logarmitic axis.  Your point would be better made if you could switch the axis and if we still see the association between the variables.

  • Helen

    4/10/2011 5:39:22 PM |

    Gretchen - Well said.

    I think many things in our modern environment play a role in tipping the scales toward diabetes - including disrupted circadian cycles and environmental toxins, such as fire retardants, plasticizers, and pesticides.  (I don't have time right now to find links from stuff I've read on this - but try Googling these things - the research is there.)  

    Jenny Ruhl claimed a short time ago that while prediabetes has risen, actual diabetes has not.  She is a good resource and I would take her arguments on most things diabetes pretty seriously.  Check her blog if interested:  Diabetes Update.  

    As a mother of a kid with celiac disease, and for other reasons, I am hardly pro-wheat or pro-gluten, but I'm not convinced grains have caused a rise in diabetes.  My daughter's gastroenterologist, however, has Type I diabetes and says that eliminating gluten has greatly improved her glucose control.

  • Anonymous

    4/10/2011 6:54:41 PM |

    When I eyeball this figure, it looks like the change occurs around 1993-1996.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    4/10/2011 10:44:35 PM |

    Helen has a point that under counting of who is "pre-diabetic" is quite possible skewing the data. The CDC changed it's diabetes diagnosis criteria; 1985 wasn't when they did that however.

    CDC took their raw 1995 - 1997 data and in 1998 decided to only use fasting glucose, and not the old standard oral glucose tolerance test, as the CDC diabetes template. For all individuals  whose data was showing greater than ( or equal to) 126 mg/dl fasting glucose they were then counted as diabetic by the CDC.

    This methodology caused CDC to say U.S.A. diabetics went from 8 million in 1995 to 10.3 million diabetics in 1997; a statistically massive 2 year jump of diabetics. And furthermore, the number of un-diagnosed diabetics was claimed to have gone down (in same period of time); they cut out a whole slew of "pre-diabetics", so to speak.

    The other criteria CDC website shows from 1998 is, that when non-fasting glucose hits 200  mg/dl (or more) they are considered diabetic. The reproduced graph Doc posted shows an exponential climb upward right at the time CDC  began using it's altered criteria.

  • brec

    4/11/2011 12:02:06 AM |

    "Note that, from 1958 until 1985, the curve was climbing slowly. After 1985, the curve shifted sharply upward."

    As I look at the presented graph, from 1986 to about 1991 the trend decelerated slightly, then resumed its prior long-term value, then accelerated in about 1997

    However, I must admit that 1997 is "after 1985."

  • Helen

    4/11/2011 12:51:04 AM |

    Other suspects that became prevalent in the food stream in the 1980s were high-fructose corn syrup and artificial trans-fatty acids, both of which are linked to hepatic insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

  • Daniel A. Clinton, RN, BSN

    4/11/2011 2:43:28 AM |

    I think of all the intelligent, scientifically-reasoned arguments all lead back to the commonsensical notion "Don't eat junk." To start, anything with enriched (aka processed) flour, partially hydrogenated oils, or high fructose corn syrup qualifies as junk. Which isn't to say all disease eminates from just those three ingredients, but I believe completely eliminating those three ingredients would yield a large health benefit to most Americans.

  • Mike

    4/11/2011 2:57:36 AM |

    It takes years for type 2 diabetes to develop. A shift in the rate at which people are diagnosed with it would be caused by something that happened some time before the shift.

  • justdoinglife

    4/11/2011 2:57:59 AM |

    1960 to 1970 is also the time frame that chemical fertilizer came into the mainstream. On the farm I was raised on, along with chemical fertilizers came mineral supplements for the hogs that were living on the fertilized barley. They "failed to prosper" on fertilized barley, where they did just fine on unfertilized barley. By the why, fertilized barley produced over twice the volume of grain, and I assume the same mineral absorption. You can blame the grain, but I believe it could be the fertilizer.

  • madmax

    4/11/2011 5:32:07 PM |

    The chart for the growth of the national debt looks the exact same. I wonder if there is a correlation between the advance of socialism and the cultural ascendancy of the Lipid hypothesis? I'd bet the ranch that the destruction of American health and the destruction of the American economy is not a coincidence.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    4/11/2011 6:15:13 PM |

    Duke university 2008 study fed new born rats 0.1 mg/kg body weight of the organophosphate pesticide parathion, for 4 days. When the rats were adults and fed a high fat diet they noticed a different response among the sexes.

    In the adult females the high fat diet resulted in a 30% higher weight gain ( vs. high fat fed males' 10% weight gain) over controls (according to respective sex) on the same diet. This type of pesticide exposure to young children may be part of how obesity is rising; the standard western fare is high in generic fat content.

    For the parathion early exposed adult male rats fed on a normal diet (ie: not high fat) the results also seem troubling. They gained weight, glucose levels rose, fat break down was inhibited and they were pre-diabetic; as compared to male controls.

    Counter-intuitively, another group of male new born rats fed parathion at 0.2 mg/kg body weight (4 days) when fed a normal diet as male adults actually weighed less than their male controls. Whereas, the female rats (fed normal diet in this case) who got both 0.1 & 0.2 mg/kg parathion (4 days) all weighed less than their female controls. Mothers, don't try this at home.

  • Helen

    4/12/2011 1:17:41 AM |

    Another culprit:

    SSRIs.  Prozac was first marketed in 1988.  (It was not the first, however - some came on the market slightly earlier that decade.)  SSRIs impair glucose tolerance and are associated with an increased risk of diabetes.  

    I think there are some modern-day smoking guns more convincing that increased grain consumption for increased obesity, insulin resistance, and risk of diabetes.  Although they are a neolithic food some of us may not be exquisitely adapted for, they have been around for 5,000 years, while the obesity epidemic is quite recent.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    4/12/2011 4:11:35 AM |

    Hi Helen,
    In 1938 there was a U.S.A. National Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists ; since 1941 the word national was replaced by "American" (ie: now is the ACGIH). 1946 the ACGIH set maximum limits on 148 compounds; which in 1956 became their "Threshold Limit Value", (TLV).

    TLV is not saying "x" level is always safe; just what is supposedly tolerable exposure for most "healthy" adults. ACGIH lays their TLV data out for industrial hygenists to use in their field, not for laymen's general use.

    2-butoxy-ethanol TLV (as a gas or evaporating vapor) is set at 20 ppm. This chemical is the favorite solvent in household spray and wipe cleaning products.

    It makes me wonder if the U.S.A. adult female house cleaner suffers metabolic syndrome at a higher rate than other individuals. If so then might not close decades of breathing 2-butoxyethanol droplets have had/has epigenetic synergy?

    1971 O.S.H.A. took 470 TLVs from ACGIH data and now calls those TLV by the phrase "Permissible Exposure Limit" (PEL). Meanwhile, as of 2010 there are 642 TLVs set out by ACGIH.

    The European Union has a registry of 143,000 chemicals in use (or used); and there are +/- 50,000,000 chemicals known to exist (as per Chemical Abstract Service Registry). The EPA has more details; for searching if you're curios: www.epa.gov/grtlakes/toxteam.

    2012 the European Union is set to report on chemical testing of all chemicals manufactured in excess of 1,000 tons annually. You'll see that as data reported from "REACH" (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical Substances).

    If you want to track down what chemical is in a product then search out the manufacturers "MSDS" (material safety data sheet). Some claim "trade secret" ingredients and then you can only guess on what is involved.

  • Ensues

    4/12/2011 1:13:53 PM |

    I love the triglyceride posts as I have been working on mine for a number of months.  Was well over 1000.  On low carb, virtually no grains, tricor (200mg), and a healthy dose of fish oil I was still at 233.  I am wondering if it will take my body/metabolism some time to heal before I can get lower.  As you might imagine I am sporting an HDL below 25.  I am working it diligently, have lost a ton of weight and get healthier by the day.  I should be sending Dr Davis a stipend for my improvement!

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    4/12/2011 3:41:28 PM |

    Dr. Davis,
    please kick out of your spam filter the post I just sent on the 12th saying "Hi Helen,". It had resources for her interest in modern chemicals.

    To Helen,
    If my 12th post doesn't show up soon (2 days?) and you request it on this thread I will try to recreate it here. Maybe you've moved on to newer threads; I don't usually monitor old threads, but I will this for a few days.

  • Medicomp INC.

    4/12/2011 4:03:13 PM |

    Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like this ascent is going to slow down anytime soon.  Even if people in recent years seem to be taking a more health-savvy approach to their eating habits, it wouldn't be surprisingly to see this trend continue regardless.

  • dextery

    4/13/2011 5:34:40 PM |

    Western countries have also seen a rise in sugar consumption along with wheat consumption over the same time period.

    Taubes has just published a piece
    "Is Sugar Toxic" and winds his way through diseases of Western cultures from sugar causing metabolic syndrome to sugar be implicated in cancer formation.

    No where was there any mention of wheat..I don't think we can isolate wheat as the primary culprit in Diseases of Civilization.  Wheat Plus Sugar, the double whammy.