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Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2011/2012 Update

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In the Report
Summary Tables
Smoking Initiation
Youth Smoking
Adult Smoking
Quitting Smoking
Clinicians’ Advice to Quit Smoking
Medicaid Coverage of Tobacco Dependence Treatments
Fruit and Vegetable Consumption
Red Meat Consumption
> Fat Consumption
Alcohol Consumption
Physical Activity
Sun Protection
Secondhand Smoke
Tobacco Company Marketing Expenditures
Early Detection
Life After Cancer
End of Life

Fat Consumption
Prevention: Behavioral Factors

The percentage of total calories from fat remained relatively stable between 1989 and 2004.

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Fat Consumption and Cancer

Some studies suggest that high-fat diets or high intakes of different types of fat in the diet may be linked to several cancers, including colon, lung, and postmenopausal breast cancer, as well as heart disease and other chronic diseases.

More research is needed to better understand which types of fat should be avoided and how much of each type alters cancer risk. Although monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids have been studied for a number of years, their effects are still unclear. More recent research on the effects of trans fatty acids also has yet to reach definitive conclusions.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend getting less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and keeping trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible for general health and the prevention of chronic disease, including cancer and heart disease. The Guidelines also recommend keeping total fat intake between 20 and 35 percent of calories for adults, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.

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Intakes of total fat, and of the major fatty acids—saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated—as a percentage of total calories.

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Period – 1989–2004

We used the My Pyramid Equivalents Database to estimate food group intake (available at Please note that this data are currently available only through 2003-04 NHANES. We will update as new data becomes available.

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Trends – Relatively stable overall.

Total fat: Falling slightly, then stable
Saturated fat: Falling slightly, then stable
Monounsaturated fat: Falling slightly
Polyunsaturated fat: Stable

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Most Recent Estimates

Data collected in 2003 to 2004 show that total fat made up one-third (33 percent) of the calories people consumed, a level within the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines. In the same period, saturated fatty acids accounted for 11 percent of calories; monounsaturated, 13 percent; and polyunsaturated, 7 percent.

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Healthy People 2020 Target

9.5 percent saturated fatty acids. (Healthy People 2020 includes targets for saturated fat and solid fat.)

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Groups at High Risk for Eating Too Much Fat

Non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Mexican Americans all have average saturated fat intakes slightly above current dietary recommendations.

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Key Issues

Researchers are studying how fat and fatty acids alter cancer risk. Precise and reliable measures of the amount and type of fat are needed—such as improved self-reported measures and biological indicators of fat intake that might be determined from a blood test.

Trans fatty acids account for only about 2 to 3 percent of energy intake, but most of these come from sources that are not clearly labeled. Major food sources of trans fatty acids are cakes, cookies, crackers, animal products, margarine, fried potatoes, chips, and shortenings. Some manufacturers have recently discontinued the use of trans fatty acids.

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Additional Information on Fat Consumption

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Back: Red Meat Consumption

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