More support for passing on the red meat

NEW YORK Wed Mar 14, 2012 10:33am EDT

A vendor cooks hot dogs as fans enter Busch Stadium before the start of play between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of MLB's World Series baseball championship in St. Louis, Missouri, October 19, 2011. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

A vendor cooks hot dogs as fans enter Busch Stadium before the start of play between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of MLB's World Series baseball championship in St. Louis, Missouri, October 19, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who eat a lot of red meat are more likely to die at any given time than those who go light on the burgers and hot dogs, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that the more servings of processed or unprocessed red meat people reported eating daily, the higher their chance of dying over more than a 20-year span.

"Red meat and especially processed red meat contains a lot of compounds and chemicals that have been linked to chronic disease risk," said Dr. Frank Hu, one of the study's authors from the Harvard School of Public Health -- and cooking red meat produces more carcinogens.

Research has suggested that the saturated fat and cholesterol in red meat is linked to plaque buildup in the arteries, which increases the risk of heart disease. Eating more meat was associated with an increased risk of kidney cancer in another recent study (see Reuters Health story of December 28, 2011).

Hu and his colleagues used data from two large, ongoing studies of U.S. doctors and nurses who filled out regular questionnaires about their typical eating habits as well as physical activity, smoking and family history.

The current report includes information from about 38,000 middle-aged men followed for an average of 22 years after their first survey and 84,000 women tracked for 28 years.

The lightest meat eaters reported getting half a serving or less of meat per day, while the study's biggest meat-lovers had red meat twice or three times daily.

Three ounces of unprocessed meat, one hot dog or two slices of bacon was counted as a serving.

About 24,000 study participants died over the two-plus decades that researchers followed them. Hu and his team calculated that the chance of dying was 12 percent higher for every extra serving of red meat the men and women had eaten each day.

Each extra serving was also tied to a 16 percent higher chance of dying from cardiovascular disease, in particular, and a 10 percent higher chance of dying from cancer.

That was after taking into account other aspects of health and lifestyle that could influence participants' chances of dying, like weight and smoking, as well as the rest of their diet and various socioeconomic factors.

Substituting one daily serving of red meat with fish, poultry, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy products or whole grains was tied to a seven to 19 percent lower chance of death, Hu and his colleagues reported Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"The results are not really surprisingly given that previous studies have found consumption of red meat is linked to diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers," Hu told Reuters Health.

"What's surprising is the magnitude... Even a small amount of red meat is associated with a significantly increased risk of mortality," he added.

Hu said that it's probably a combination of chemicals and compounds that are found in red meat, including saturated fat, cholesterol and lots of salt -- especially in processed meat -- that account for increased health risks in meat-eaters, although his study can't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Though he doesn't necessarily recommend everyone drop their burgers at once, Hu said it's not a bad idea to try to cut back on red meat, given this and other evidence of its less-than-stellar health record.

"We're not talking about everyone becoming a vegetarian -- I think a small amount of red meat is still okay as part of a healthy diet," he said.

"We're talking about no more than two or three servings of red meat a week. Basically, red meat should be an occasional part of our diet and not a regular part of our diet."

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, online March 12, 2012.

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Comments (3)
Cwolf88 wrote:
THis is a correlation study based on self-report. There was no Randomized Controled Trial (RCT).

As one researcher said of another study, ‘we hope they lie consistently.’

The authors note the high meat eaters were more obese, smoked, and exercised less.

Unclear that the rest of their diet was controlled or adjusted for. Did high meat eaters eat more or less vegetables, processed foods, etc.? Was meat grass or grain fed? How was the meat cooked?

Therefore, projected their correlations to dietary changes affecting mortality really isn’t supportable.

Mar 14, 2012 11:15am EDT  --  Report as abuse
ScoobyD wrote:
And, by the way, near the front of the linked report I found this: “Background Red meat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases. However, its relationship with mortality remains uncertain.” Why is this not mentioned in this article???

Mar 14, 2012 12:40pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
If possible, please add to this report after checking an excellent article about vitamin B12 by Jane Brody in the NYTimes last month or so (?). Older adults may think they need to avoid beef. Many may have a B12 deficiency, which can hasten cognitive decline, and the best way to get more in their diets would be to eat beef more frequently. (Not three times a day though obviously.)

Mar 14, 2012 2:14pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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