Processed meat mortality report countered
Published:  08 March, 2013

A report published yesterday, which claimed eating processed meat products could shorten peoplesí lives, has been criticised by dietitians.

The report, which was published in the journal BMC Medicine, took a snapshot of the diets of nearly half a million adults living in Europe.

In response to the paper Dr Carrie Ruxton, who is a dietitian sitting on the Meat Advisory Panel, highlighted two issues. She said: "The first is whether the EPIC survey really tells us anything new about diet and mortality, and the second is identifying the healthiest way to eat red meat.

"The EPIC survey reported that the highest consumers of processed meat tended to smoke, drink large amounts of alcohol and had the lowest intakes of fruits and vegetables. While the researchers attempted to correct for this statistically, it is not possible to completely separate out the risks from these behaviours."

According to Ruxton, the inability to separate out the risks from the other behaviours was why she had serious concerns about the usefulness of the paper. She continued: "It is also vital to note this was an epidemiological population based study from which it is difficult to tease out a cause and effect."

Meanwhile, ZoŽ Harcombe, who is the author of the book The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it? and a qualified nutritionist, also pointed out that a factor the media and researchers had not looked at, was that "how much of the processed meat was in carbs?". She said the association between processed meat and health would more likely reflect the flours and sugars in the pies, pastries and slices of bread, which the processed meat was in.

"The point that made me laugh was that the researchers estimated that 3.3% of deaths could have been prevented. But you are not actually going to prevent a death, we are all going to die."

Harcombe added: "You have got to remember that this study is only association, not causation. They have seen a little bit of a pattern between people eating processed meat and heart disease."

However, Harcombe also said that the media and researchers should be given credit where it was due for specifying processed meat as being bad for health, rather than just meat. "Because normally you would read, meat is going to kill you, before it goes on to say that it is actually processed meat."