12 January - 20 June 2016

Processed meat linked to premature death

20 March 13

Researchers from the Institute of Social and Preventative Medicine, University of Zurich and a number of other institutions in Europe have examined the association of red meat, processed meat, and poultry consumption with the risk of early death in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).  The study of half a million men and women has been recently published in BMC Medicine.  The EPIC study is a large prospective cohort study conducted in 23 centres in 10 European countries.  Participants were recruited between 1992 and 2000, and at recruitment, men were aged 40 – 70 and women 35 – 70 years old.  The analytical cohort included 448, 564 participants and researchers took data from the EPIC study to look at the association between red meat, processed meat, and poultry consumption, and the risk of overall mortality and cause specific mortality.  For the purposes of analysis, food products were grouped as follows:  red meat (beef, pork, lamb/mutton, horse and goat); processed meat (ham, bacon, sausages, minced meat as part of ready-to-eat product); white meat (poultry, including chicken, hen, turkey, duck, goose, unclassified poultry, and rabbit).  Various other questions were assessed at recruitment, including age, education, height, weight, medical history, alcohol consumption and smoking history.  Information on death and cause of death was obtained through record linkage in seven countries, and through active follow-up of participants in three countries.  In order to examine the association between different types and quantities of meat and processed meat consumption, hazard ratios were calculated.  The overall results showed that there was a link between the increased consumption of processed meat and risk of all-cause mortality.  The link with red meat was not as strong as for processed meat and there was no link between death risk and poultry consumption.  The researchers estimated that 3.3% of all deaths could be avoided if all people ate less than 20g of processed meat per day.  Whilst the study had much strength the authors did conclude that the main limitation to the study was that it could not completely exclude the effects of demographic, health and lifestyle factors, or others unmeasured as they were not fully accounted for.

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