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Processed Meat Linked to Premature Death

A huge study of half a million men and women, published in open access journal BMC Medicine, demonstrates an association between processed meat and cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) study involved ten countries and 23 centres in Europe and almost half a million people. It found a person’s risk of premature death (increased risk of all cause mortality) increased with the amount of processed meat eaten. One of the difficulties in measuring the effect of eating meat on health is the confounding effect of lifestyle on health. Often vegetarians have healthier lifestyles than the general population; they are less likely to smoke, are less fat and are more likely to be physically active. Only within a very large study, like the current one, can the consequences of eating meat and processed meat be isolated from other lifestyle choices. Indeed, the results were found to be the same after correcting for confounding variables, although residual confounding cannot be excluded.

It should be noted that in general a diet high in processed meat was linked to other unhealthy choices. Men and women who ate the most processed meat ate the fewest fruit and vegetables and were more likely to smoke. Men who ate a lot of meat also tended to have high alcohol consumption.

The authors of the study commented, “Risks of dying earlier from cancer and cardiovascular disease also increased with the amount of processed meat eaten. Overall, we estimate that 3% of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20g processed meat per day.”

The study did find a small amount of red meat to be beneficial, which the researchers suggest is because meat is an important source of nutrients and vitamins.

Rohrmann V. Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. BMC Medicine, 2013; 11 (1): 63 DOI: 10.1186/1741-7015-11-63

Categories: Nutritional News, Healthy Aging, Metabolic Health