An international team of 14 researchers has published a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine that states that there is insufficient scientific evidence for consumers to reduce their consumption of red and processed meats for health reasons.
The study analyses 12 randomized control trials enrolling c. 54,000 people and reportedly “did not find a statistically significant or an important association in the risk of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes for those that consumed less red and processed meat”.
The study has caused controversy among experts and comes at a time when many are calling for people to reduce their meat consumption due to its significant climate impact.
The WHO currently classifies red and processed meats as cancer-causing.
From what we can tell this seems to be a highly debated study, with some public health researchers taking strong exception at the findings and even trying to keep them from being published.
Additionally, a few scientists from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health later posted a critique that includes several issues they saw with the methodology used and conclusions reached.
It’s an interesting case as it highlights that despite consumers claiming they want to eat healthier and be more environmentally conscious, this doesn’t necessarily translate into action: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average US consumer eats c. 4.5 servings of red meat each week, with 10% of the population even eating at least two servings every day.
It’s therefore perhaps unsurprising that the study has caused so much controversy – leaving questions regarding methodology aside, the (perhaps more ethically-oriented) criticism that it only focuses on health concerns without considering any ethical or environmental reasons for reducing ones meat consumption is valid, given it may serve to validate the dietary choices of those consumers who eat well above the already high average.