Claim: Processed meat linked to premature death

Junk. Find out why.

Reasons: Self-reported dietary and health data (unreliable). Health endpoint (death) is too common and multifactorial for epidemiologic study. Weak correlations (RRs < 2.0). Effect could easily be explained by socio-economic status — i.e., processed meat-eaters tend to be poorer.

The media release is below.

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Processed meat linked to premature death

In a huge study of half a million men and women, research in Biomed Central’s open access journal BMC Medicine demonstrates an association between processed meat and cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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 can the consequences of eating meat and processed meat be isolated from other lifestyle choices.

This EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) study involved ten countries and 23 centres in Europe and almost half a million people. 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 a high alcohol consumption.

A person’s risk of premature death (increased risk of all cause mortality) increased with the amount of processed meat eaten. This is also true after correcting for confounding variables, although residual confounding cannot be excluded. However, a small amount of red meat appeared to be beneficial which the researchers suggest is because meat is an important source of nutrients and vitamins.

Prof Sabine Rohrmann, from the University of Zurich, who led this analysis explained, “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.”

This article marks the launch of an article collection on Medicine for Global Health in BMC Medicine. The collection focuses on public health initiatives, the development of health care policies and evidence-based guidelines which are needed to address the global burden of disease. Vulnerable populations, especially in low and middle income countries, continue to be seriously affected by non-communicable and infectious diseases including neglected tropical diseases, while complications during pregnancy and childbirth in these regions leave mothers and infants at risk of severe disability or death.

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11 thoughts on “Claim: Processed meat linked to premature death”

  1. Do those who eat processed meats have 130% risk of dying or only a 70% chance of living forever?

  2. They do data dredges to find results that support their biases. t would be interesting to see the results they had to throw away because either it didn’t support their biases or directly contradicted them. Imagine the horror when one of these data dredges produced the same flimsy statistical result but showed vegetarians prematurely dying. You can bet that result never made it to the press.

  3. Not that much money and effort, it was just a data dredge of a half-million people. Nothing I couldn’t write a script for and have it calculate over lunch.

    Heck, with a bit of filtering for size, I could do it in Excel.

  4. This is utter junk as Steve noted. The EPIC database has been dredged for years looking for evidence to scare people about “unhealthy” diets and nothing tenable has ever been found.

    There were significant SES and educational differences among the groups, even still, the correlations their computer model created between death and causes of death among the different self-reported diets, were not even linear (related to the amounts in their diet).

  5. So, it’s Spam, bacon and corned beef that make people smoke? All I can think of saying to that is baloney.

  6. They never give up, do they.

    The ‘processed meats = death’ meme has been going around for decades. But claiming that 30% of deaths are down to it is a new low in junk science.

    Note also that they claim that there is a link to cholesterol, which has been comprehensively debunked.

    Truth is, they hate people who enjoy bacon. On that basis, they will never win the hearts and minds of the masses.

  7. Sigh……what a complete waste of $ and effort for such junk like this. I suppose it will never end…..sigh.

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