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New report debunks health scare about red meat

The American College of Physicians has published in their journal ‘Annals of Internal Medicine’ a ‘study of studies’ that reviewed the entire body of work that has been carried out in this area.

3 October 2019, at 12:00am

This new review exposes evidence from previous studies linking meat with cancer as “weak” and only “able to provide low or very low certainty in their conclusions.”

Based on the most comprehensive review of evidence to date, the bottom line is that reducing red meat could have little or no effect on whether or not an individual goes on to develop cardiovascular disease or cancer.

The findings expose a number of flaws in how these studies were conducted and point out that “many studies selectively report results.” This is highlighted by the fact that two studies working from exactly the same data sets manage to reach opposite conclusions with one reporting a “significant risk” and the other reporting no health risk.

Part of the problem has been how those studies were conducted. Most were observational which means they were based on notoriously unreliable self-reports of food consumption. Many didn’t take into account other lifestyle factors that may have an equal or greater impact on health.

For example, would someone who consumes a quarter pounder every day be more likely to accompany that with fries and a sugary drink instead of fruit and water? What other lifestyle habits like smoking and drinking alcohol is that same person also likely to have?

Nick Allen, CEO of the British Meat Processors Association commented: “This report highlights a gap in the evidence from scientific studies. Instead of flawed observational studies, dietary advice should be based on higher quality randomised control trials that compare differing but strictly controlled amounts of red meat consumption over a long time frame. To date, only twelve have been carried out, none of which offer any conclusive or even consistent evidence.”

Commenting on how this affects consumers, Mr Allen added: “It raises questions about how dietary advice is communicated to people. Official guidelines based on evidence with “low to very low certainty” coupled with headline-grabbing but unsubstantiated claims in the media and on social media are not helpful.

“It prompts some people to make drastic changes to their diet without having an accurate picture of how this will affect their health. These people run the risk of inadvertently substituting a healthy, balanced diet with one that lacks essential nutrients and has the opposite effect on their health.”