Jan 31 Native Americans who often ate
processed meat in a can, generically known as "spam" and a
common food on reservations, one subsidized by the U.S.
government -- had a two-fold increased risk of developing
diabetes over those who ate little or none, according to a U.S.
Native Americans are at especially high risk of developing
diabetes, with nearly half having the condition by age 55.
Researchers writing in the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition surveyed 2,000 Native Americans from Arizona, Oklahoma
and North and South Dakota to look into potential reasons for
the high rate.
"A lot of communities in this study are in very rural areas
with limited access to grocery stores... and they want to eat
foods that have a long shelf life," said Amanda Fretts, the lead
author and a researcher at the University of Washington School
None of the survey participants, whose average age was 35,
had diabetes at the start of the study when they answered
questions about diet and other health and lifestyle factors.
After five years, a follow-up survey found that 243 people
had developed diabetes.
Among the 500 people in the original study group who ate the
most canned processed meat, 85 developed diabetes. In contrast,
among the 500 people who ate the least amount of "spam," just 44
developed the disease.
Though Spam is a brand-name pork product, the lower-case
term is also used to describe any kind of processed, canned
meat, Fretts said. Canned meat is available freely to many
Native Americans on reservations as part of the U.S. Department
of Agriculture's food assistance program.
Fretts and her colleagues found that unprocessed meat did
not have the same relationship with diabetes, with people
equally likely to develop diabetes regardless of how much
hamburger or cuts of pork or beef they ate.
"I think what this study indicates is processed meats should
be a priority for reduction (in the diet), especially among
American Indians where they can go to food assistance programs
and they can get discounted spam," said Dariush Mozaffarian, a
professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who was not
involved in the study.
Mozaffarian and his colleagues two years ago conducted an
analysis that found that processed meats were tied to a 19
percent higher diabetes risk, while unprocessed meats were
"I think the biggest difference between processed and
unprocessed meats is sodium," he said, though he added that
there is no clear explanation for the link of processed meats
Fretts and her colleagues noted that the people who ate the
most processed meats tended also to be heavier, with larger
waistlines, raising the possibility that processed meats
contribute to obesity, which raises the risk of diabetes.
In an emailed statement to Reuters Health, The American Meat
Institute, which represents companies that process meat, said
that "processed meats are a safe and nutritious part of a
Fretts said the study could not prove that eating processed
meats was to blame for the increased risk of diabetes.
"I think there needs to be more follow-up," she said.
(Reporting from New York by Kerry Grens at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies)