Tuesday October 15, 2019

Eating Red Meat Links to Cancer and Heart Disease, but are the Risks Big Enough to Give Up Burgers and Steak?

In a series of papers published Monday, the researchers say the increased risks are small

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Red Meat, Cancer, Heart Disease
FILE - A beef steak is cut at the Taberna del Gijon restaurant in Madrid, Spain, July 26, 2017. VOA

Eating red meat is linked to cancer and heart disease, but are the risks big enough to give up burgers and steak?

A team of international researchers says probably not, contradicting established advice. In a series of papers published Monday, the researchers say the increased risks are small and uncertain and that cutting back likely wouldn’t be worth it for people who enjoy meat.

Their conclusions were swiftly attacked by a group of prominent U.S. scientists who took the unusual step of trying to stop publication until their criticisms were addressed.

The new work does not say red meat and processed meats like hot dogs and bacon are healthy or that people should eat more of them. The reviews of past studies generally support the ties to cancer, heart disease and other bad health outcomes. But the authors say the evidence is weak, and that there’s not much certainty meat is really the culprit, since other diet and lifestyle factors could be at play.

Red Meat, Cancer, Heart Disease
FILE – Packed U.S. beef is displayed at a supermarket in Chiba, east of Tokyo, Japan, Aug. 9, 2006. VOA

Most people who understand the magnitude of the risks would say “Thanks very much, but I’m going to keep eating my meat,” said co-author Dr. Gordon Guyatt of McMaster University in Canada.

It’s the latest example of how divisive nutrition research has become, with its uncertainties leaving the door open for conflicting advice. Critics say findings often aren’t backed by strong evidence. Defenders counter that nutrition studies can rarely be conclusive because of the difficulty of measuring the effects of any single food, but that methods have improved.

“What we need to do is look at the weight of evidence — that’s what courts of law use,” said Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of nutrition at Harvard University who was among those calling for the papers’ publication to be postponed.

Willett, who has led studies tying meat to bad health outcomes, also said the reviews do not consider the particularly pronounced benefits of switching from red meat to vegetarian options.

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The journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, defended the work and said the request to have it pulled before publication is not how scientific discourse is supposed to happen. Guyatt called the attempt to halt publication “silly.”

In the papers, the authors sought to gauge the potential impact of eating less meat, noting the average of two to four servings a week eaten in North America and Western Europe. They said the evidence for cutting back wasn’t compelling. For example, they found that cutting three servings a week would result in seven fewer cancer deaths per 1,000 people.

Based on the analyses, a panel of the international researchers said people do not have to cut back for health reasons. But they note their own advice is weak and that they didn’t take into account other factors, such as animal welfare and the toll meat production has on the environment.

There was dissent even among the authors; three of the 14 panelist said they support reducing red and processed meats. A co-author of one review is also among those who called for a publication delay.

Red Meat, Cancer, Heart Disease
A team of international researchers says probably not, contradicting established advice. Pixabay

Those who pushed to postpone publication also questioned why certain studies were included or excluded in the reviews. Harvard’s Dr. Frank Hu also noted that about a third of American adults eat at least one serving of red meat a day. He said the benefits of cutting back would be larger for those who eat such high amounts.

Still, other researchers not involved in the reviews have criticized nutrition science for producing weak and conflicting findings. Dr. John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, said such advice can distract from clearer, more effective messages, such as limiting how much we eat.

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As for his own diet, Guyatt said he no longer thinks red or processed meats have significant health risks. But he said he still avoids them out of habit, and for animal welfare and environmental reasons. (VOA)

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Being Overweight Before the Age of 40 Can Increase Risk of Cancer in Adults

"The risk increased by 64 per cent for male participants and 48 per cent for females," Bjorge added

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Cancer
Cancer Ribbon. Pixabay

Researchers have found that being overweight before the age of 40 could increase the risk of various cancers in adults.

“Obesity is an established risk factor for several cancers. In this study, we have focused on the degree, timing and duration of overweight and obesity in relation to cancer risk,” said study author Tone Bjorge, Professor at University of Bergen in Norway.

For the findings, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the research team wanted to find out how adult overweight (BMI over 25) and obesity (BMI over 30) increase the risk of different types of cancer.

The researchers used data for 2,20,000 individuals from the Me-Can study, with participants from Norway, Sweden and Austria.

Data from health examinations, including information on height and weight, were linked to data from national cancer registries.

Obesity
An overweight woman sits on a chair in Times Square in New York, May 8, 2012. VOA

According to the researchers, 27,881 individuals were diagnosed with cancer during follow-up, of which 9,761 (35 per cent) were obesity-related.

The study showed that if you were overweight before age 40, the risk of developing cancer increases by: 70 per cent for endometrial cancer, 58 per cent for male renal-cell cancer, 29 per cent for male colon cancer and 15 per cent for all obesity-related cancers (both sexes).

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Obese participants (BMI over 30) at the first and second health examination had the highest risk of developing obesity-related cancer, compared to participants with normal BMI.

“The risk increased by 64 per cent for male participants and 48 per cent for females,” Bjorge added. (IANS)