UK Biobank data reinforces warnings about red meat & processed meats, & shows that white meat is NOT the “right meat,” either
OXFORD, U.K.––Even excluding cancer risk, eating red meat increases the meat eater’s risk of becoming dead meat, and white meat is not the “right meat” either, concludes a major new University of Oxford investigation of the effects of meat-eating on human health––albeit not quite in such explicit terms.
The findings, “Meat consumption and risk of 25 common conditions: outcome-wide analyses in 475,000 men and women in the UK Biobank study,” were reported on March 2, 2021 in the peer-reviewed scientific journal BMC Medicine, volume 19, article number 53.
Leading the nine-member research team was nutritional epidemiologist Keren Papier, Ph.D., of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, a branch of the University of Oxford.
Eating meat three times or more per week elevates risk
Opened the BMC Medicine report, “There is limited prospective evidence on the association between meat consumption and many common non-cancerous health outcomes. We examined associations of meat intake with risk of 25 common conditions (other than cancer).
“We used data from 474,985 middle-aged adults recruited into the UK Biobank study between 2006 and 2010 and followed up until 2017 with available information on meat intake at baseline,” meaning at the beginning of the UK Biobank project.
“On average,” the BMC Medicine report continued, “participants who reported consuming meat regularly (three or more times per week) had more adverse health behaviors and characteristics than participants who consumed meat less regularly.”
Five of 25 non-cancer disease threats are raised by meat consumption
Specifically, higher consumption of unprocessed red and processed meat combined was associated with higher risks of ischaemic heart disease [associated with clogged blood vessels], pneumonia, diverticular disease, colon polyps, and diabetes.
The results “were similar for unprocessed red meat and processed meat intakes [when evaluated] separately,” the study team found.
Six of the 25 disease threats are raised by poultry consumption
But avoiding red and processed meat while eating more white meat, specifically poultry, “was associated with higher risks of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, gastritis and duodenitis, diverticular disease, gallbladder disease, and diabetes,” the team reported.
Qualified Papier et al, “Most of the positive associations observed for meat consumption and health risks were substantially attenuated after adjustment for body mass index.”
In other words, the effects associated with meat consumption are also associated to approximately equal degree with being overweight.
But meat-eating has also long been associated with increased risk of obesity.
Heart disease & diabetes
Observed Denis Campbell, health policy editor for The Guardian, “It is already known that intake of red and processed meat heightens the risk of being diagnosed with bowel cancer. But these findings are the first to assess whether meat consumption is linked to any of the 25 non-cancerous illnesses that most commonly lead to people being admitted to hospital in the United Kingdom.
“The academics found that every 70 grams of unprocessed red meat and processed meat that a person consumed daily raised their risk of heart disease by 15% and of diabetes by 30% after taking into account other lifestyle factors, such as physical activity and alcohol consumption,” as well as body mass index.
Suggested Campbell, red and processed meats “may raise the risk of heart disease because they contain saturated fatty acids, which can increase low-density lipoprotein, or ‘bad’ cholesterol, which is known to put people at greater risk of heart problems.
Expands findings from previous research
“Similarly, every 30 grams of poultry meat eaten daily increased the risk of developing gastro-oesophageal reflux by 17% and of diabetes by 14%, [the Papier-led team] found.”
“Meat consumption and risk of 25 common conditions: outcome-wide analyses in 475,000 men and women in the UK Biobank study” follows a University of Oxford study presented on November 2, 2015 to the annual conference of the British National Cancer Research Institute, also based on UK Biobank data.
The 2015 study “tracked the meat-eating habits of more than 500,000 British men and women aged 40 to 69,” summarized Yahoo.com health writer Korin Miller. “Participants who ate four servings of red meat a week were 42% more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who had one serving or none at all. Participants who ate red meat at least twice a week were 18% more likely to develop colorectal cancer than vegetarians.”
Two ounces of processed meat per day increases cancer risk by 18%
Days earlier, on October 26, 2015, the World Health Organization [WHO] and the International Agency of Cancer Research [IARC] reported that consuming an average of as little as 50 grams or two ounces of processed meat per day increases the risk that a person will contract cancer by about 18%.
This confirmed a recommendation in the World Health Organization’s 2002 Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases report that people should moderate consumption of preserved meat to reduce the risk of cancer.
The WHO/IARC warning defined processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen. This means that WHO and IARC consider the weight of scientific evidence demonstrating that processed meats cause cancer in humans to be strongly convincing. Among the best-known Group 1 carcinogens are tobacco and asbestos.
Mounting evidence from earlier studies
However, the WHO/IARC question-and-answer page clarified, “This does not mean that [all Group 1 carcinogens] are equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.”
The University of Oxford and WHO/IACR warnings in turn reinforced mounting evidence from earlier studies.
U.S. National Cancer Institute researchers, for instance, reported in the March 23, 2009 edition of Annals of Internal Medicine that “High intakes of red or processed meat may increase the risk of mortality.”
Annals of Internal Medicine is a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Medical Association.