What's more likely -- death by an auto accident or death by french fries?

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A healthy diet's enemy No. 1? French fries.
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A healthy diet's enemy No. 1? French fries. See health tips with staying healthy pictures.

Much has been made recently of Americans' eating habits. Cholesterol, trans fats, heart disease and other obesity-related illnesses dominate the health pages of newspapers and magazines, and the primary culprit is almost always the same: fast food.

Is the demonization of the french fry fair? Can fast food really be that bad for you? Surely there are other health hazards that are far more dangerous than an order of hot, oily, unbelievably delicious fried potatoes.

As it turns out, not so much. Even within the world of fast food delicacies, the french fry, until very recently, was exceptionally artery clogging. Considering that Americans eat about 35 pounds (15.8 kg) of fast food fries per person per year, the situation has become rather bleak [source: Gladwell].

The problem is heart disease. In the United States, about 13 million people have it [source: WebMD]. French fries and their high-fat buddies are only one cause of heart disease -- others include genetics, cigarettes, high blood pressure and diabetes -- but it's a big one, and it's unique in that it's avoidable. This characteristic is why the government has stepped in to try to control the use of trans fats in our food. To many of us, that seemed like a strange, overintrusive move. But the more you learn about trans fats and heart disease, the less strange the new rules might seem.

Next Up

­Still, can trans fats really be more deadly than car accidents? In this article, we'll find out. We'll discuss why certain high-fat foods, french fries in particular, can be so bad for the heart. We'll look at the different types of fats -- both good and bad -- and what happens when they enter the body, and we'll see why certain types are so effective at clogging the arteries that keep our blood pumping.

First off -- what exactly does "clogging the arteries" mean?