Cardiovascular diseases represent an increasing share of the global disease burden. There is concern that increased consumption of palm oil could exacerbate mortality from ischemic heart disease (IHD) and stroke, particularly in developing countries where it represents a major nutritional source of saturated fat.
The study analyzed country-level data from 1980-1997 derived from the World Health Organization's Mortality Database, U.S. Department of Agriculture international estimates, and the World Bank (234 annual observations; 23 countries). Outcomes included mortality from IHD and stroke for adults aged 50 and older. Predictors included per-capita consumption of palm oil and cigarettes and per-capita Gross Domestic Product as well as time trends and an interaction between palm oil consumption and country economic development level. Analyses examined changes in country-level outcomes over time employing linear panel regressions with country-level fixed effects, population weighting, and robust standard errors clustered by country. Sensitivity analyses included further adjustment for other major dietary sources of saturated fat.
In developing countries, for every additional kilogram of palm oil consumed per-capita annually, IHD mortality rates increased by 68 deaths per 100,000 (95% CI [21-115]), whereas, in similar settings, stroke mortality rates increased by 19 deaths per 100,000 (95% CI [-12-49]) but were not significant. For historically high-income countries, changes in IHD and stroke mortality rates from palm oil consumption were smaller (IHD: 17 deaths per 100,000 (95% CI [5.3-29]); stroke: 5.1 deaths per 100,000 (95% CI [-1.2-11.0])). Inclusion of other major saturated fat sources including beef, pork, chicken, coconut oil, milk cheese, and butter did not substantially change the differentially higher relationship between palm oil and IHD mortality in developing countries.
Increased palm oil consumption is related to higher IHD mortality rates in developing countries. Palm oil consumption represents a saturated fat source relevant for policies aimed at reducing cardiovascular disease burdens.