March 14 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, according to a U.S. study that
followed more than 100,000 people over several decades.
Researchers whose findings appeared in the Archives of
Internal Medicine said that the more servings of both processed
and unprocessed red meat people reported eating daily, the
higher their chances of dying over a more than 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 Frank Hu, at the Harvard School of Public
Health and one of the study leaders.
Research has suggested that the saturated fat and
cholesterol in red meat is linked to plaque buildup in arteries,
which increases the risk of heart disease, while cooking red
meat produces more carcinogens. A recent study said that eating
more meat was associated with a greater risk of kidney cancer.
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 (85 gm) of unprocessed meat, one hot dog or two
slices of bacon was counted as a serving.
About 24,000 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 chance of dying from cancer -- even after taking into
account other aspects of health and lifestyle that could
influence the chance of dying, such as weight, smoking, the rest
of their diet and 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
"The results are not really surprising given that previous
studies have found consumption of red meat is linked to
diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers," Hu said.
"What's surprising is the magnitude ... Even a small amount
of red meat is associated with a significantly increased risk of
He said 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."
(Reporting from New York by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies and Bob Tourtellotte)