Pekka Puska: Butter boom will blow over soon
“Butter has not suddenly become healthier.”
National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) Director-General Pekka Puska is of the opinion that the recently-reported increase in the consumption of butter is merely a fad that will blow over soon.
The Institute is not going to introduce measures in an attempt to curb the growth in butter consumption.
According to the dairy cooperative Valio, this year the Finns will consume 20% more butter than they did last year. At the same time in Sweden even a shortage of butter on store shelves has been reported.
In Finland, the consumption of butter reached its peak at the beginning of the 1960s, when an average Finn consumed a colossal nearly 20 kilogrammes of butter per year. Last year’s corresponding figure was three kilos.
“Crazes come and go. But all the expert summaries in the world agree: Butter has not suddenly become healthier than it was", Puska says.
The butter boom admittedly took Puska by surprise.
“The citizens are confused by the publication of 'new' research results. Such new results do not exist, however. Out of ten thousand conducted studies, one can always cherry-pick the viewpoints that one likes.”
Even though the consumption has increased, in Puska’s view the THL has not done anything wrong.
“We are an expert institute, but people make up their own minds. In every instance we repeat the hard facts at our disposal.”
The effects of the butter boom will perhaps manifest themselves next spring in connection with the publication of the National FINRISK Study, which focuses on the health of the Finns.
“We are waiting for it with great anticipation. So far our cholesterol levels and cardiac fatality rates have been on a downward trend. We will see if the lowering of the cholesterol levels has now come to a halt.”
The THL is not aware of which population group in particular has started favouring butter again.
“That is an important question. Does this group include people who support natural values? My guess is that the ordinary working-class people have not suddenly switched back to butter.”
Puska reckons that the carbon footprint discussion also supports the notion of reducing the use of butter.
“Right now the market guys promoting butter use the concept of ‘natural values’ as their mantra. But the carbon footprint of butter is quite substantial, as cows, which are ruminants, are always going to be needed to produce it. I believe this viewpoint will prove effective in the future dialogue.”
Pekka Puska first came to wider public attention, both in Finland and abroad, as the architect of the so-called "North Karelia Project" in the 1970s, which addressed the alarmingly high levels of cardiovascular disease in the local population.
The intervention, which also involved dietary recommendations including the reduction of intake of animal fats, was an unqualified success: by 1995 the annual mortality rate from coronary heart disease in North Karelia in the working age population had fallen by approximately 75% compared with the rate before the project was instigated.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Butter consumption increases in both Sweden and Finland (29.9.2011)
What foods are seen as healthy for children? It varies (12.4.2011)
North Karelia Project (WHO)
Pekka Puska (biography at National Public Health Institute)