Britons ignore meat cancer warnings

Less than a third of Britons believe that eating processed meat will increase the risk of bowel cancer, a YouGov survey has revealed.

The survey of 2,249 people, which was commissioned by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), revealed that only 32% of Britons think that eating meats such as bacon and ham will increase their risk of cancer.

The results are disappointing for the WCRF, which released a report linking bowel cancer and meats back in November 2007, advising that consumers should limit red meat consumption and stop eating processed meats altogether.

The organisation said it beleived that people are just not aware of the link and vowed to reiterate its warnings to the public.

Marilyn Gentry, chief executive of WCRF, said: “When it comes to cancer prevention, the advice from scientific experts is that the best amount of processed meat to eat is none at all.

“But if people do not know about the link between bowel cancer and processed meat, then they are not in a position to make informed choices. This is why there is still a lot of work to be done to spread the message about how people can reduce their cancer risk.

“It is also important to get across the message that this is not a question of all or nothing. For example, if someone is eating bacon every day and they do not want to give it up completely, they can still make a positive change by phasing it out gradually and eventually just having it as an occasional luxury.”

Several recent scientific studies have cast doubt over the WCRF's claims. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this year found that the risk of bowel cancer is actually 39% lower for meat eaters than for vegetarians and vegans, while a recent review of previous cancer studies found no statistically significant association between animal fat or animal protein and the risk of cancer.

Commenting on these discrepancies, UK physician and health writer Dr John Briffa said: “It seems, from the science as it stands, that there is good reason to challenge the commonly held belief that eating meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.”