Yet another “meat kills!” study

A couple Interesting post from the past week or so … from fathead

Dear nutrition researchers –

We get it, okay?  Seriously, we get it.  We know that you can conduct observational study after observational study and produce statistics showing that people who consume a lot of processed meat are more likely to get heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc., etc., etc. than people who don’t.  If we took a survey, we’d probably find that more people know about that correlation than know the U.S. is 16 trillion dollars in debt.  We’d probably also find that most people are more worried about processed meats than the ticking debt-bomb.  So congratulations.  You’ve done your job.  You can stop now.  Really.  Please.

But of course, they won’t stop.  They’ll keep producing essentially the same study over and over and over.  The latest “meat kills!” study hit the news late last week.  Here are some quotes from just one of the gazillion articles that appeared online.

Too much processed meat tied to premature death

Eating too much processed meat like bacon and sausage could increase the risk of premature death, a study of nearly half a million Europeans suggests.

The study of people in 10 European countries who were followed for an average of 13 years. In that time, there were about 26,000 deaths.  People who consumed more than 160 grams of processed meat a day — about two sausages and a slice of bacon — were 44 per cent more likely to die over the course of the study compared with those eating about 20 grams.

“The results of our analysis support a moderate positive association between processed meat consumption and mortality, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases, but also to cancer,” Prof. Sabine Rohrmann from the University of Zurich and his co-authors concluded in this week’s issue of the journal BMC Medicine.

Blah, blah, blah.

I took a peek at the full study and was tempted to do a full analysis, but concluded I may as well just cut-and-paste from my posts on other “meat kills!” studies – because this is the same kind of crappy study as all the others.  So here’s pretty much all you need to know:

  • It’s an observational study and therefore essentially meaningless.
  • The data is based on food-recall questionnaires, which are notoriously unreliable – and in this study, different questionnaires were used in different countries.
  • The scary-sounding percentages (increases risk of death by 44%!) turn into small numbers when you look at the actual difference.
  • The people who consumed a lot of processed meat had worse health habits overall:  more likely to smoke, more likely to drink heavily, more likely to be overweight, less likely to eat vegetables, etc.  In other words, we are (once again) looking at the differences between people who are health-conscious and people who aren’t.  Since we’ve all been told for the past 40 years that bacon and sausage are bad for us, health-conscious people are more likely to avoid processed meats than I-don’t-give-a-@#$% people.

The researchers claimed they “teased out” the processed meat consumption specifically, but frankly, that’s not possible.  They can adjust for factors included in their data, such as smoking and BMI, but there’s no way they gathered data on every variable that can affect health — such as the fact that people who eat processed meats typically eat them with a nice, big serving of white flour and probably a soda as well.


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