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13-03-2013 | Dietetics | Article

Processed meat consumption linked to premature mortality


Free abstract

medwireNews: Recent findings published in BMC Medicine indicate an association between higher processed meat consumption and early mortality from cardiovascular (CV) disease and cancer.

In a related press release, lead investigator Sabine Rohrmann (University of Zurich, Switzerland) remarked: "Overall, we estimate that 3% of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20 g processed meat per day."

Over 500,000 people from 10 European countries have been enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort study. The researchers reviewed data from 448,568 EPIC participants on their food consumption (including meat and poultry) and general health, and used linkages with vital records and other databases to ascertain morbidity and mortality causes and rates.

Participants who consumed the most red and processed meat had lower consumption of fruits and vegetables and were more likely to be smokers, and men were also more likely to consume larger amounts of alcohol. The median follow-up time was 12.7 years. During the follow-up period, 26,344 study participants died; of that group, 21.1% died from CV disease and 37.4% from cancer.

Greater consumption of red meat and processed meat was linked to increased all-cause mortality after accounting for confounders (hazard ratio [HR]=1.14 for intake of =160 g red meat/day and 1.44 for =160 g processed meat/day vs moderate consumption). In addition, high consumption of processed meat was significantly associated with CV disease mortality (HR=1.30) and cancer mortality (HR=1.11), as well as other causes of death (HR=1.22). These associations were nonsignificant for red meat and poultry consumption.

The researchers note that based on data from this and other nutritional cohort studies, there was a much lower mortality risk associated with low meat consumption (<20 g/day), and a vegetarian diet did not confer additional benefits.

"It appears that a low - but not a zero - consumption of meat might be beneficial for health," they add, as meat provides some essential nutrients at levels not easily obtained with a vegetarian diet.

For the purposes of this study, "red meat" was defined as beef, mutton/lamb, pork, goat, and horse, while "processed meat" was defined as all meat products, including bacon, ham, and sausages.

By Stephanie Leveene, medwireNews Reporter