Red meat boosts risk of dying young: study

10:30 AEST Tue Mar 13 2012
A long-running US study has found eating processed red meat every day can boost a person's risk of dying young (Thinkstock)
A long-running US study has found eating processed red meat every day can boost a person's risk of dying young (Thinkstock)

Eating a portion of processed red meat daily can boost a person's risk of dying young by up to 20 per cent, says a long-running US study of more than 120,000 people.

While the research by Harvard University experts offers more evidence that eating red meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer, it also counsels that substituting fish and poultry may lower early death risk.

"This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death," said Frank Hu, senior author of the study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers gleaned their data from a study of 37,698 men who were followed for 22 years and 83,644 women who were tracked for 28 years.

Subjects answered surveys about their eating habits every four years.

Those who ate a card-deck-sized serving of unprocessed red meat each day on average saw a 13 per cent higher risk of dying than those who did not eat red meat as frequently.

And if the red meat was processed, like in a hot dog or two slices of bacon, that risk jumped to 20 per cent.

However, substituting nuts for red meat lowered total mortality risk by 19 per cent, while poultry or whole grains lowered the risk by 14 per cent and fish did so by seven per cent.

The authors said between seven and nine per cent of all deaths in the study "could be prevented if all the participants consumed fewer than 0.5 servings per day of total red meat".

Processed red meat has been shown to contain ingredients such as saturated fat, sodium, nitrites and some carcinogens that are linked to many chronic ailments including heart disease and cancer.

"More than 75 per cent of the $US2.6 trillion ($A2.47 trillion) in annual US health care costs are from chronic disease," said an accompanying commentary by Dean Ornish, a physician and dietary expert at the University of California, San Francisco.

"Eating less red meat is likely to reduce morbidity from these illnesses, thereby reducing health care costs."

A separate study, also led by Hu but published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found that men who drank sugar-sweetened beverages daily faced a 20 per cent higher risk of heart disease than men who did not.

The study tracked more than 42,000 men, most of them Caucasian, over 22 years. It found higher heart risks, and higher levels of inflammation and harmful lipids known as triglycerides in daily sweet-drinkers.

The effects were not seen in men who drank as many as two sugar-sweetened beverages per week.

According to Hu, the research "provides strong justification for reducing sugary beverage consumption among patients, and more importantly, in the general population".

Heart disease is the biggest killer in the United States and top risk factors include obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, diabetes and poor eating habits.

User comments
It is interesting to note that one of the authors is known to be vegetarian and speaks at vegetarian conferences and the invited ‘peer’ review of the article has been done by none other than the man who claims the credit for having turned ex-President Clinton into a vegan – Dean Ornish.
This has been found to be true in previous studies also, but the variables that can influence these types of studies are staggering. Vegetarians have been found to be more conscious of caring for their bodies and participating in regular physical activity and eating less processed foods which could ultimately be the reason why they live longer. They also forget to mention here the benefits of eating small amount of red meat a few times a week. I am a vegetarian and believe that its all of my lifestyle choices that lead me to be healthy, not just the fact that I dont eat red meat.
Yep, I ate lots of red meat, and I died young. Oh, wait, no, I didn't. But seriously, we need links to the survey and the raw data, because the article fails to answer far too many questions, such as what else the people ate, what level of exercise they did, jobs, lifestyles, drinking habits, family history of all those who died and so on. Without that data, this is mere fear-mongering. If an article like this is to be taken seriously, we need to have links to the survey and the data or it is likely to be seen as another ill-informed fluff article, whereas if these links are included, it can be informative and useful.
This has been known for a long time now, you need a mix of grains and vegetables.
The study seems a bit vague to me as well, we do not have all the details of all the foods and beverages they consumed nor do we know if they smoked or drank heavily. Red meat is not that bad for you if you have it in small portions and not every day and if it's not processed (eye fillet for example) and if you ensure you drink plenty of water during the day, you do at least 30 mins of exercise and eat a lot of fibre every day. However, bowel cancer for instance can be facilitated by consumption of large quantities of red meat. This is because when red meat lands in the large intestine in the digestive process, it actually enters a state of putrefaction, which is why we need to consume fibre and plenty of water. The fibre & water mix gatheres all the meat remains and helps clearing up the colon.
"Eating a portion of processed red meat daily can boost a person's risk of dying young by up to 20 per cent, " is very different to "Red meat boosts risk of dying young " It is not all red meat. It is not showing what else they were eating in this article. This study is biased. BTW where is the link so the average reader can read this and make up their own mind??
It's true, my grandma lived till 106 yeas old, because she didn't eat that much red meat, so she lived a longer life.

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