More Meat Phobia


The media is once again sensationalizing Meat Phobia.

The results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study published in BMC Medicine suggest that men and women with a high consumption of processed meat are at increased risk of early death, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases but also to cancer. The association did not appear to exist for what was defined as unprocessed red meat and poultry consumption.

The authors tried to consider other confounders like activity, smoking, alcohol and total food intake. They note that those eating processed meats tended to partake in many other unhealthy lifestyle behaviors.

Maybe this study should have been labeled as a comparison between processed vs. unprocessed foods, but then that would not attract much attention!

View the entire study for free in .pdf format.

  • I just updated a link to the the entire study in its final version .pdf format :

  • Eric CO

    Even if all their data were accurate (and that’s a HUGE if) they state “We estimated that 3.3% (95% CI 1.5% to 5.0%) of deaths could be prevented if all
    participants had a processed meat consumption of less than 20 g/day.”

    Let’s see 3.3% of 26,344 deaths you get 896. So out of a pool of 448,568 people- they feel they’re findings show that keeping processed meat consumption under 20 g/day would have prevented .19% deaths… wow…

    I’m so underwhelmed I would file this under worthless.

    • primenumbers

      “deaths could be prevented if all participants had a processed meat consumption of less than 20 g/day.” – and the data doesn’t even show that (not that it shows much of anything really) because they show that those that ate none-at-all or <10g a day had a higher hazard ratio than those that ate 10g to 20g. They they didn't show a clear linear dose-response effect is a sure sign they've got un-accounted-for confounders.

      • PrimaNumbers – On the positive side, regarding this non-linear relationship, they did say that avoiding meat altogether was unfavorable!

        • primenumbers

          Yup, they say “However, all-cause mortality was higher among participants with very low or no red meat consumption.”, but they buried it deep in the analysis, rather and put it in their conclusion. Of course, media reports of the study say things like “Processed meat ‘early death’ link” and “However, the researchers said even after those risk factors were accounted for, processed meat still damaged health.” presenting to the reader a causality that the study does not and cannot show.

          You’re right to headline your article “More Meat Phobia” indeed, and of course, the mainstream media offer no analysis of the study, no explanation of confounders or the epidemiological nature of the study and it’s inability to show causation. They quote up those who typically demonize meat, and basically try to scare people.

          The one redeeming feature on this reported study is that the paper is actually accessible without fee so that we can read it ourselves and find the issues with it rather than have to guess or wait for a more investigative reporter to buy access.

  • primenumbers

    The study is incapable of showing causation, and is produced using the infamous diet questionnaires, for which we know people will under-report food they think of as “bad” (like processed meats, for instance), and for many reasons are also woefully inaccurate. I also notice in their data, those eating the least processed meat had more health issues than those eating a moderate amount, which would indicate to me that the there are significant un-discovered (or un-accounted for) confounders.

  • Absolutely no mention of the quality of the meat and as we know the content of pasture raised animals is completely different to that of intensively farmed animals. So it’s just another waste of someones time & money creating this study.

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