• Your life and health are your own responsibility.
• Your decisions to act (or not act) based on information or advice anyone provides you—including me—are your own responsibility.


The Lipid Hypothesis Has Officially Failed
(Part 1 of many)

In 1977, the US Government issued its first dietary recommendations: eat less fat and cholesterol, and more carbohydrates.  Yeah, that worked.

Feel free to hotlink this image so long as you also make the image a link to http://www.gnolls.org, or put a visible link to gnolls.org under it.

Thanks to George McGovern and the “United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs” for killing millions of people via the consequences of obesity—diabetes, heart disease, depression, cancer, dementia, stroke, osteoarthritis, and a host of other totally preventable maladies.

Seriously: we let a Senate committee decide what was healthy to eat? I guess we got what we deserved.

“Low-Calorie” Foods Made Us Fat

To forestall the inevitable cascade of reflexive defenses of the status quo, which are “We started eating more junk food”, “We started eating more food generally. Calories in, calories out” and “People got lazy and stopped exercising”, I’ll point the skeptics to the following study, which uses the same data set (NHANES) as the graph:

The American Journal of Medicine Volume 102, Issue 3 , Pages 259-264, March 1997. Divergent trends in obesity and fat intake patterns: The american paradox. MD Adrian F. Heini, MD, DrPH Roland L. Weinsier

RESULTS: In the adult US population the prevalence of overweight rose from 25.4% from 1976 to 1980 to 33.3% from 1988 to 1991, a 31% increase.
    [WIth a 55% increase in obesity and a 214% increase in extreme obesity. See the original NHANES data.]
During the same period, average fat intake, adjusted for total calories, dropped from 41.0% to 36.6%, an 11% decrease.
    [We were doing exactly what we were told to do: eat less fat.]
Average total daily calorie intake also tended to decrease, from 1,854 kcal to 1,785 kcal (−4%). Men and women had similar trends.
    [Look at that! We weren’t eating any more food…but, somehow, we got fatter anyway.]
Concurrently, there was a dramatic rise in the percentage of the US population consuming low-calorie products, from 19% of the population in 1978 to 76% in 1991.
    [Again, we were doing exactly what we were told to do: eat low-fat, high-carb products.]
From 1986 to 1991 the prevalence of sedentary lifestyle represented almost 60% of the US population, with no change over time.
    [So we weren’t exercising any less, either.]

In other words, we were eating the same number of calories, eating dramatically more low-calorie, low-fat ‘health food’, and exercising the same amount…but we got dramatically fatter!

Why does the “low-fat, high-carb” weight loss strategy fail? Start here with “Why You’re Addicted To Bread”. And here’s how I eat: “Eat Like A Predator, Not Like Prey”.

Then, continue to Part 2!

Live in freedom, live in beauty.


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Permalink: The Lipid Hypothesis Has Officially Failed
(Part 1 of many)
  • Links, Quick Hits &a

    […] Pretty telling chart that J. Stanton of GNOLLS.ORG put together right here: The Lipid Hypothesis Has Officially Failed. Lot's of other great insight on that blog so have a look around. Here's a suggestion: Fat And […]

  • Katie

    Thanks for posting this! That graph is really telling. Just found your site.. looking forward to reading more.

  • anonymous

    How did they get this so wrong? Were there already some lobbies in place which had a lot to win in pushing high-carb, low fat foodstuffs? Or was their science just severely flawed?

  • anonymous said:

    How did they get this so wrong? Were there already some lobbies in place which had a lot to win in pushing high-carb, low fat foodstuffs? Or was their science just severely flawed?

    My guess is that we can trace the rise of dietary recommendations to eat more grains and soybeans to the rise of agribusiness (e.g. ADM, Monsanto, Cargill) and its stranglehold on American farm policy.

    Now that we subsidize multibillion-dollar corporations to mass-produce corn, soybeans, and wheat (necessarily at the expense of pasture and other crops), we have a lot of corn, soy, and wheat that needs to be eaten…and the government-sponsored dietary recommendations, unsurprisingly, emphasize the consumption of corn, soy, and wheat, science and evidence be damned.

    There isn't one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians. People who are not in the Midwest do not understand that this is a socialist country.” -Dwayne Andreas, ex-CEO of Archer Daniels Midland

    If you want to see how agribusiness is really done, read about ADM's history of price-fixing here (“ADM ultimately settled federal charges for more than US$100 million and paid hundreds of millions of dollars more ($400 million alone on the HFCS class-action case) to plaintiffs and customers”)…and let's not even talk about the corn ethanol scam.

    So I guess what I'm saying is: don't expect the food pyramid to change anytime soon.



  • Check the links̷

    […] lipid hypothesis has failed and the myth of complex […]

  • mia schreiber

    in the paleo diet, how do milk and dairy products fit in? i read gc/bc by gary tauber and there wasn’t a whole lot about it, except that butter is good. but what about yoghurt and cheeses?

  • Mia:

    That is a topic of passionate debate amongst paleo adherents, and I can't claim to address all the arguments.

    Some claim (correctly) that dairy could not have been consumed before animals were domesticated and is therefore not truly 'paleo'.  Others claim that, strictly speaking, refrigerators and freezers aren't 'paleo' either.

    My opinion: butterfat is healthy for the same reason animal fat is healthy, and butter (being 100% butterfat) is therefore beneficial for all but practicioners of what Dr. Kurt Harris calls “paleo re-enactment”.

    Other dairy products are suspicious in proportion to their lactose and casein content.  Aged cheeses and full-fat yogurt contain little to no dietary lactose, and are therefore in the muddy middle, but eliminating grains and seed oils is far more important.  If you've already done that, you can eliminate cheese/yogurt and see if it improves your performance.  Many find it makes no difference, and continue to enjoy cheese, yogurt, and heavy cream.  (I certainly do.)

    I see no reason to drink milk, as casein is of doubtful benefit, and low-fat milk (like all low-fat products) is just another way to make yourself fat.

    Remember: fatty meat is always your primary source of calories. If you're diving into bricks of cheese, you didn't eat enough animal fat.  Eating lean meat is your primary source of cheese cravings.

    I'll do a full-length post about this at some point.  Thank you for bringing up the subject!  I hope you'll check back on Tuesday for a big article that will be very relevant to your paleo curiosity.


  • Patrick

    Just to clarify, the lactose content of yogurt depends on how long it was fermented, not its fat content.

    Also, you mention that fat consumption dropped but you didn’t point out that the kinds of fat people were consuming also changed – saturated fat consumption dropped in favor of dangerous vegetable oils (high in omega-6-heavy polyunsaturated fatty acids). Taubes ignores this, but the Paleo community is very big on it.

  • Patrick:

    “The lactose content of yogurt depends on how long it was fermented.”  Absolutely true.

    And re: Taubes, I agree.   n-3/n-6 balance was one of my first areas of dietary research, and discovering its importance was my first step towards 'paleo'.  It is known that trans fat causes obesity, and seed oils (I refuse to use the misleading term 'vegetable oil'…they're not vegetables) contain a significant amount of trans fat after extraction and deodorizing, as I mention here.  There is also evidence that pro-inflammatory nature of arachidonic acid may cause obesity by itself, but to my knowledge that is less well researched.  (Please correct me if you know sources.)

    Thanks for contributing!


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  • Dana

    That chart you posted has to do with BMIs. Are the BMI numbers adjusted to account for changes in BMI reckoning or are we comparing apples and oranges?

    I’m not contesting that there are more fat people in the U.S. than there used to be. But to get an accurate idea of how bad the problem is, we need to compare like with like across the board.

  • Dana

    OK, I went and looked up body mass index on Wikipedia and the *method* of calculating BMI has always been the same, BUT, what is termed “overweight” or “obese” has changed. So again, what we need is a chart that shows what percentage of the population has a BMI of ___ number or above. Maybe 25 and 35 might be good cutoffs for overweight and obese respectively, or 30 and 35.

  • Dana:

    According to the CDC, “overweight” for the purposes of these graphs is 25 <= BMI < 30, and “obese” is BMI >= 30.  That's actually in the fine print at the bottom of the graph, if you squint.

    The original graphs, and links to the full report, are available here at the CDC's website.

    You are correct, however, in noting that the definitions of “overweight” and “obese” have changed over the years.  So it's important to use the original BMI data, and not just the summary percentages in the surveys.

    Thanks for contributing!


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  • Allen


    I just listened to the first half of the Latest In Paleo podcast featuring you. I’ll get back to it later, but so far, so good!

    I really like your site and I’m enjoying the articles.
    I know this post is a couple of months old, but I’m commenting anyway because I think there’s more of interest regarding the paper you’ve sited.

    I downloaded a copy of Divergent Trends in obesity and Fat Intake Patterns and gave it a read. It’s fairly short. Here are some things I think might be worth pointing out:

    To start with, here’s the core observation. According to the data gathered for large cohort studies of impeccable pedigree, in the U.S. between 1977 and 1987 not only did the average fat intake decrease (down 11%) but total calorie intake as well (down 4%). At the same time, however, there was a huge jump in overweight and obesity. This, according to the authors, is a “paradox.”

    What’s most interesting is what the authors conclude from the data. It’s clear that they take the Lipid Hypothesis as gospel. They conclude that the only possible explanation for the weight gain is that everyone got more sedentary. They readily admit that there is no evidence for this, though they also argue that there’s been no reliable measure of physical activity trends.

    They site a study that claims “…the percentage of Americans who had a sedentary lifestyle remained stable..,” IE: There’s been no change in physical activity for Americans. They go on to suggest, however, that, though Americans may not be exercising less, they MUST have become significantly less active during the rest of their “non-leisure” day. A fancy way of saying that life must have gotten significantly easier for us physically or that we’re just suddenly much lazier – the oft referenced “Glutton or Sloth” hypothesis. The data show that Americans don’t seem to be gluttons. Since, however, they have gotten fatter anyway, then it must be that we’ve become more slothful. QED.

    The authors try hard to hammer out the “paradox” with the blunt mallet of “energy in equals energy out.” There’s a great bit on the last page of the paper where they site another study in which subjects were put through 8 weeks of exercise and “unexpectedly” there was a drop of 60% in non-exercise-related physical activities. Yet, they aren’t compelled to ask whether or not this suggests even the possibility that physical activity isn’t the dominant causal factor in the rise of obesity. Or that there might be more going on here than can be reflected in a simple algebra equation.

    Here’s a telling quote:

    Other researchers have suggested that “…a modern inactive lifestyle must play an important, and perhaps dominant, role in the development of obesity. It is likely that the reported high levels of sedentary lifestyle in the United States, which appear to be unchanged since 1986, do not accurately reflect trends in total physical activity, which may well have declined.”

    Noted also was the greater divergence in weight gain and calorie intake in women in their 50s and white men. The conclusion? They are becoming disproportionately less active. Might we suggest that, at least in the case of the middle-aged women, a tired pancreas and insulin-deaf cells might be a factor? Don’t know. Just saying.

    The last paragraph of the paper is also a gem. It begins:

    “In summary, it appears that the efforts to promote the use of low-calorie and low-fat food products have been highly successful and have been in line with the objectives of the US Public Health Service.”

    So, the campaign to change the way everyone eats has worked! Everyone’s eating less fat and fewer calories. Unless, however, the “objectives of the US Public Health Service” is to increase obesity and diabetes, I’m not sure how this can be said to be “in line.”

    The conclusion of the authors?
    There’s nothing wrong with the underlying assumption.
    It’s all our fault for finding creative and hidden ways to be sedentary!

  • Allen:

    Thank you for the long and thoughtful post! I love your conclusion: “It's all our fault for finding creative and hidden ways to be sedentary!”  One wonders if the rise in obesity in children under two years old will be blamed on lazy babies.  

    Dr. Malcolm Kendrick does an excellent job of skewering these sorts of ad-hoc hypotheses in “The Great Cholesterol Con.”  

    I'm glad you're enjoying the podcast: both Angelo and I had a great time.


  • Walter

    If people are more sedentary it’s because they are getting fat. Taubes makes a big deal of this. If you eat too many carbs, they will take the fat to storage and should you eat less, your activity level will go down.

  • Walter:

    I don't think the carb/insulin cycle is 100% of obesity, but it's a big piece of the puzzle.  And Taubes' points about exercise vs. intake are well taken…I talk about the exercise issue (and why it's still important) in this article.


  • Dave Brethauer

    Great site! Just stumbled upon it an like what I see. About this whole milk issue being paleo or non-paleo. From where I sit it’s all about common sense. Milk (regardless of species) is designed to provide nutrition to newborns for a very short period. The newborn is then weaned and never again consumes milk for the rest of it’s life. Except man. Man is the only animal that you find as an adult sucking off the hind-teat of a cow (this image alone is quite disturbing). Why do we think that the life giving substance from another totally different species was designed to help us in anyway, post infancy? And I’m not advocating the use of cows milk for infants. Human infants should drink human milk. This from a guy that for a long period in his life consumed cows milk an it’s by-products by the gallon/pound but who today no longer touches the stuff.

    Thanks for all the great info!

  • If You’re R

    […] The Lipid Hypothesis Has Officially Failed- Part I (Gnolls) […]

  • Dave:

    Turn the question around: why would a life-giving substance (milk) suddenly become non-nutritious at any age?

    I take the biochemical approach to nutrition, even of clearly Neolithic foods.  See:

    Functional Paleo: A Definition And Short Manifesto

    The Paleo Identity Crisis: What Is The Paleo Diet, Anyway?

    And while it's true that cow milk isn't human milk, there are enough similarities that I don't dismiss it out of hand.  The evidence seems to be that casein and lactose are problematic for some, but it's difficult to dismiss butterfat as harmful unless you're frankly allergic to the traces of casein it contains.

    I personally don't consume milk: only butter, full-fat yogurt, and half-and-half, which minimize lactose and casein and maximize fat.  But that's a decision people must make for themselves.


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    […] only is Ohio 20 years behind Seattle in espresso, they also are still stuck in the 1990s low-fat lipid hypothesis thinking when it comes to nutrition. Cholesterol and saturated fats are still considered evil, […]

  • Snowcialist

    So I am giving this a try, and it feels good. But I would like to know the lipid panel results over time (a few years) of people that are doing this. I went primarily veg. a few years because my cholesterol was getting well above 200, and it worked. I got it down to 140 which is the low end of modern (1940s til 1980’s) hunter gatherer societies. this only makes sense if it solves problems associated with the SAD. So, post a few numbers.

  • Snowcialist:

    First, hunter-gatherers didn't have low serum cholesterol.  See this informative series of articles by Dr. Paul Jaminet:

    “Did Hunter-Gatherers Have Low Serum Cholesterol?” (part 2, part 3, conclusion)

    Second, low cholesterol is just as deadly as high cholesterol!  The region of minimum mortality is between 200 and 240 mg/dl of TC: a TC of 188 carries the same risk of death as a TC of 250, and “Mortality rises sharply as cholesterol levels fall below 200 mg/dl.”

    See this series, for starters: Blood Lipids and Infectious Disease, Part I

    Having a 140 mg/dL TC is not healthy — it's deadly.

    There are also the awkward facts that low cholesterol is associated with lower survival rates from stroke and faster progression of dementia.


  • Training and nutriti

    […] (Image link goes to source.) […]

  • […] am not afraid of fat. I am not afraid of cholesterol. I am not afraid of all carbohydrates. I eat less then I ever have […]

  • […] the years many legit ideas from researchers have been labeled quackery- including the idea that the ‘lipid hypothesis‘ as the root of cardiovascular disease is deeply flawed. Researchers showing that fats are a […]

  • […] am not afraid of fat. I am not afraid of cholesterol. I am not afraid of all carbohydrates. I eat less then I ever have […]

  • […] (You can read the entire detailed post here) […]

  • Nick

    The Lipid Hypothesis addresses atherosclerosis and heart disease. It does not address obesity, so this article is setting up a straw man by using that chart. For what it’s worth, the Lipid Hypothesis is very well accepted by the scientific community, and denying it is akin to creationism. There are a multitude of studies (such as those done by Caldwell Esselstyn) which show that a low fat diet reverses heart disease. What you will never find is a study showing that a high fat diet reverses heart disease, outside of a few rigged studies done by the Atkins Foundation.

  • Nick:

    Esselstyn's “study” was completely uncontrolled, featured a raft of lifestyle interventions including cholesterol-lowering medication, contains several discrepancies in the numbers, and over half of the participants dropped out by 5.5 years (selection bias, anyone?)  It's a collection of anecdotes, not a “study”.

    Here's a summary of what the Ornish and Esselstyn studies actually consisted of, and what they say (and don't say).  

    Actually, there are multiple studies showing that a high-fat diet reverses heart disease, none of them from the Atkins Foundation.  Here's one to start you off:

    Mayo Clin Proc. 2003;78:1331-1336

    Effect of a High Saturated Fat and No-Starch Diet on Serum Lipid Subfractions in Patients With Documented Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease 

    James H. Hayes, MD; Angela DiSabatino, RN, MS; Robert T. Gorman, PhD; Simi Vincent, PhD, MD; and Michael E. Stillabower, MD 

    And here's the big nail in the coffin of “saturated fat kills”:

    Am J Clin Nutr 91: 535-546, 2010. 

    Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. 

    Patty W Siri-Tarino, Qi Sun, Frank B Hu and Ronald M Krauss

    “A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD.”

    In fact, studies like the Rose Corn Oil Trial prove that polyunsaturated fat is a cause of CHD.  So the evidence is that Ornish and Esselstyn are correct in saying that “vegetable oils” are bad and should never be eaten…but they're incorrect in saying that animal fats should never be eaten. 


  • […] The Lipid Hypothesis Has Officially Failed- Part I (Gnolls) […]

  • […] flaxseed oil.  I just finished reading “Eat Fat, Lose Fat“, which completely blows the lipid hypothesis and all the other low-fat dogma out of the water.  It’s been a trick finding good quality […]

  • Nick

    Esselstyn uses statins only on his most severe patients. Your second study proves my point to a tee. Search for another paper by this same team called “Reply to P Scarborough et al.” and look at the acknowledgements:

    “RMK [Ronald M. Krauss] receives research support from the National Dairy Council, National Cattleman’s Beef Association, and the Robert & Veronica Atkins Foundation.”

    Thanks for that. You should watch some videos on this YouTube channel, especially his videos on Ancel Keys, LDL, and Low Carb Research.


    I was skeptical about the Lipid Hypothesis myself until watching these videos. Now I know why it’s an established pillar of science.

  • Nick:

    How about reading the acknowledgments from the original paper?  “The authors’ responsibilities were as follows—PWS-T, QS, FBH, and RMK: selected the studies for inclusion in the meta-analysis; PWS-T and QS: extracted data from the studies and wrote the manuscript; QS: performed the statistical analyses; and FBH and RMK: provided significant advice and consultation. No conflicts of interest were   reported.

    First, it's clear that Siri-Tarino and Qi Sun did the heavy lifting.  Second, you might consider that those sponsorships (which came later) showed up as a result of writing a paper that didn't automatically demonize saturated fat.

    Finally, I don't recommend taking Don Matesz (“PrimitiveNutrition”) at his word.  I've caught him misquoting statistics from papers with which I'm familiar by factors of 40 or more…figures which, if quoted correctly, would have destroyed his entire hypothesis.  In my opinion, that's not something one does by accident…it's something one does when trying to mislead people.


  • Nick

    Primitive Nutrition is not Don Matesz. This is roundly refuted by listening to Don Matesz speak. As it happens, PrimtiveNutrition has a video on the 2010 meta-analysis and why it is anomalous:

    link to YouTube video

    You may find some of Frank Hu's work outside of this study particularly intriguing. What are these papers that he's supposedly misquoting and how would they destroy his entire hypothesis? I assume you're talking about the Lipid Hypothesis, which is not “his,” but a scientific consensus validated by mountains of clinical and epidemiological data. Here you are acting like the Lipid Hypothesis is about WEIGHT, and you're accusing others of being misleading? Laughable.

  • Nick:

    Videos present “facts” in a way that doesn't allow us to check their veracity, allowing outrageous misrepresentations.  If you're trying to debunk specific claims, as in that video, you had better write a print article with links to Pubmed. The only reason to make a video out of that is because you're misrepresenting the facts and have something to hide.  If you have a print article which I can review, I'll be glad to look at it.  

    Meanwhile, you're right that PrimitiveNutrition isn't Don Matesz: I can't keep my veg*an apologists straight, especially when they hide behind anonymity.  My bad.  

    However, “Plant Positive”/”PrimitiveNutrition” is a bald-faced liar.  Anthony Colpo destroys his schtick in typical crude, foul-mouthed fashion in this article. 

    In the meantime, stop putting words in my mouth and throwing around unsupported assertions. The studies I quoted and referenced soundly refuted your entire argument: all you could do in response is accuse one of the secondary authors of a retrospective conflict of interest.


  • Randal

    I have recently discovered your site, I have Gnolls book coming my way. Good stuff.

    The interesting thing about the timeline is that it follows my experiences as a paramedic. I started working EMS in 1975. We had the occasional patient that weighed over 225 pounds, maybe once every couple of weeks. Patients that weighed over 300 pounds were maybe every 3 months or so. The over 400 pounder was an once a year thing.

    Now it has become so common that large EMSs are putting bariatric units in service that can handle up to 1000 lbs with ramps and wenches. This these: http://media.commercialappeal.com/media/img/photos/2012/03/20/ambulance_appcrop_t607.jpg

    Back in the day our stretchers were only rated to around 250 lbs.

    Now the basic Ferno stretcher has a weight limit of 400 lbs with their higher end stretchers have a limit of 700 lbs.

    And the timelines fits with the rise of moving away from “real foods” and into following government guidelines.

    Go figure

  • Randal:

    Thank you for supporting gnolls.org by purchasing The Gnoll Credo…I hope you find it as enjoyable and illuminating as my other readers do.

    I've heard similar stories from other paramedics, and from people all the way up and down the health care chain…for instance, open MRI scanners because so many people won't fit down the tube.

    That ambulance looks like it's designed for horses or cattle, not people!


  • Ted Hutchinson

    Readers of this blog may be interested in downloading and reading the full text of this open access paper. 


    Food for Thought: Have We Been Giving the Wrong Dietary Advice?

    Background: Since 1984 UK citizens have been advised to reduce total dietary fat intake to 30% of total energy and saturated fat intake to 10%. The National Institute of Clinical Excellence suggests a further benefit for Coronary Heart Disease  prevention by reducing saturated fat intake to 6% -7% of total energy and that 30,000 lives could be saved by replacing SFAs with Polyunsaturated fats. 

    Methods: 20 volumes of the Seven Countries Study, the seminal work behind the 1984 nutritional guidelines, were assessed. The evidence upon which the NICE guidance was based was reviewed. Nutritional facts about fat and the UK intake of fat are presented and the impact of macronutrient confusion on public health dietary advice is discussed. 

    Findings: The Seven Countries study classified processed foods, primarily carbohydrates, as saturated fats. The UK government and NICE do the same, listing biscuits, cakes, pastries and savoury snacks as saturated fats. Processed foods should be the target of public health advice but not natural fats, in which the UK diet is deficient. With reference to the macro and micro nutrient composition of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy foods the article demonstrates that dietary trials cannot change one type of fat for another in a controlled study. 

    Interpretation: The evidence suggests that processed food is strongly associated with the increase in obesity, diabetes, CHD, and other modern illness in our society. The macro and micro nutrients found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, are vital for human health and consumption of these nutritious foods should be encouraged.

  • Ted:

    That's a pretty good summary of the problems with the Seven Countries Study.  It's amazing that something so slipshod had such a great influence!


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  • […] the yahoo comments section? might as well be the ny post. jeebus. also, um, google? start here: The Lipid Hypothesis Has Officially Failed (Part 1 of many) - GNOLLS.ORG As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the […]

  • […] it as either an angelic saviour of all our arteries, or a nearly-useless expensive paeon to a failed hypothesis, bringing debilitation of muscle and mind, and slyly inducing […]

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