Eating processed meat increases risk of early death: study
Published Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:31AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:47AM EST
A diet high in processed meat such as bacon, sausages, and cold cuts appears to be linked to a higher risk of premature death as well as to developing conditions such as cancer and heart disease, a new study suggests.
The study, involving 10 countries in Europe, found that people who ate the most processed meat were 44 per cent more likely to die prematurely from any cause compared with those who ate little of it.
High levels of processed meat consumption also increased the risk of death from heart disease by 72 per cent and cancer by 11 per cent.
The authors, led by Prof Sabine Rohrmann from the University of Zurich, note that their study was a large one, involving close to half a million men and women who were tracked for between nine and 17 years. The study relied on participants reporting their own diet patterns.
The study found that in general, a diet high in processed meat was linked to other unhealthy choices. For example, men and women who ate the most processed meat also ate the fewest fruit and vegetables and were more likely to smoke.
But Rohrmann says even when her team accounted for those lifestyle differences, the link between processed meat and early death still held.
"High meat consumption, especially processed meat, is associated with a less healthy lifestyle,” she told the BBC. "But after adjusting for smoking, obesity and other confounders we think there is a risk of eating processed meat.”
The study also found that eating little or no red meat was in fact linked to higher premature mortality than moderate consumption. The authors think that may have to do with the vitamins and nutrients in meat such as protein, iron, and zinc.
Rohrmann says the risk of dying early from cancer and heart disease could be reduced if more people ate less processed meat.
“Overall, we estimate that three per cent of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20 grams of processed meat per day,” she said in a statement.
Their results are published in the journal BMC Medicine.