Red Meat Consumption and Mortality

(If you prefer a shorter summary of the study’s findings, here is a link to an article about it in the New York Times:

This study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (now known as JAMA Internal Medicine) in April 2012, but I had to discuss it today in response to some Facebook spam going around about how bacon can help you live longer. This study included 37,698 men (1986-2008) and 83,644 women (1980-2008) who were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer at baseline. Diet was assessed by validated food frequency questionnaires and updated every 4 years. Unlike some other studies, this one was not looking at mainly vegetarian populations in comparison to eating red meat, but rather vegetarian AND other animal protein sources (e.g., poultry, fish) compared to red meat. It also differentiates between processed red meat, like bacon, and unprocessed red meat, like beef, pork or lamb.

It’s interesting that even eating less red meat, rather than having to give it up completely, helps with mortality rates. This is probably a great place for most people to start.

Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies

An Pan, PhD; Qi Sun, MD, ScD; Adam M. Bernstein, MD, ScD; Matthias B. Schulze, DrPH; JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH; Meir J. Stampfer, MD, DrPH; Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH; Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD
Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(7):555-563. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287.


” We documented 23,926 deaths (including 5910 CVD and 9,464 cancer deaths) during 2.96 million person-years of follow-up. After multivariate adjustment for major lifestyle and dietary risk factors, the pooled hazard ratio (HR) (95% CI) of total mortality for a 1-serving-per-day increase was 1.13 (1.07-1.20) for unprocessed red meat and 1.20 (1.15-1.24) for processed red meat. The corresponding HRs (95% CIs) were 1.18 (1.13-1.23) and 1.21 (1.13-1.31) for CVD mortality and 1.10 (1.06-1.14) and 1.16 (1.09-1.23) for cancer mortality. We estimated that substitutions of 1 serving per day of other foods (including fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains) for 1 serving per day of red meat were associated with a 7% to 19% lower mortality risk. We also estimated that 9.3% of deaths in men and 7.6% in women in these cohorts could be prevented at the end of follow-up if all the individuals consumed fewer than 0.5 servings per day (approximately 42 g/d) of red meat.”


“In conclusion, we found that greater consumption of unprocessed and processed red meats is associated with higher mortality risk. Compared with red meat, other dietary components, such as fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains, were associated with lower risk. These results indicate that replacement of red meat with alternative healthy dietary components may lower the mortality risk.”

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