Steak and hot dogs linked to early death
It gives a new meaning to the phrase “meat is murder”: a study of more than half a million Americans has found that consuming steaks, hot dogs and other red and processed meats significantly
increased participants’ chances of dying during the decade in which they were tracked.
Women who consumed the most red meat – 66 grams (2.3 ounces) per 1000 calories – were roughly 36% more likely to die than women who ate the least red meat – 9.1 grams (0.3 ounces). For men, a
similar difference in red meat consumption, upped death rates by 31%.
To put it the other way around, the researchers say that 11% of deaths in men and 16% of deaths in women could be prevented if people who eat a lot of red meat cut their consumption.
“This is probably the biggest and most carefully done study on the relationship between diet and mortality that I’ve seen,” says Barry Popkin, an epidemiologist at the University of North
Carolina in Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the study.
The study, led by researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Rockville, Maryland, followed about 545,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 71. Between 1995 and 2005, 47,976
men and 23,276 women participating in the study died.
Upon enrolment, participants filled out an extensive questionnaire of their diet over the past year. Since no one can remember exactly what they’ve eaten a year ago, the researchers asked
participants exactly what they had eaten on a previous day. They then adjusted the yearly “food diaries” according to how good the subjects were at recalling what they ate the day before.
The researchers also adjusted their estimates based on participants’ age, weight, smoking history, total food intake and other factors that might confound any association between diet and
This increased the chances that researchers would uncover a real association between red and processed meats and death rates, but these measures do not eliminate the possibility that other
factors could explain the link, says Rashmi Sinha, the NCI epidemiologist who led the study.
“It’s unlikely we’re ever going to feed people meat and see what happens,” she says.
Cancer and heart disease explain much of the association between red meat and mortality. Men who ate the most red meat were 22% more likely to die of cancer and 27% more likely to die of heart
disease, compared with men who ate red meat sparingly.
Women who ate the most steaks and hamburgers were 20% more likely to die of cancer and 50% more likely to die of heart disease, compared with women who consumed the lowest levels.
Participants ate less processed meat – think hot dogs, pepperoni and sausage – but these foods seemed even more potent. Men who consumed the highest levels of these meats – an average of 19
grams (0.7 ounces) per 1000 calories – were 16% more likely to die during than study compared to men who ate averaged 5 grams (0.2 ounces) per 1000 calories.
For women, the difference between 3.8 (0.1 ounces) and 16 grams (0.6 ounces) of processed meats per 1000 calories upped the odds of death by a quarter.
“You eat a hot dog a week you’re going to up, quite a bit, your risk of death in a 10-year period,” says Popkin. His advice: “Don’t eat processed meat,” and consume red meat in moderation.
However, doctors and nutritionists have been offering the same advice for years, Popkin notes, and such warnings can only go so far to reduce meat consumption.
He argues, instead, that governments in the US and Europe ought to curtail farm subsidies that keep meat artificially cheap, as well as factor the environmental costs associated with meat
“The whole focus of the environmental movement seems to be on cars and coal, but we have the lowly pig producing a hell of a lot of carbon,” he says.
Journal reference: Archives of Internal Medicine (vol 169, p 562)