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Association between meat consumption and all-cause mortality

Comment by Eugenio Greco on behalf of EACPR Prevention, Epidemiology and Population Science Section


A diet rich in meat has several potential nutritional benefits -but perhaps even more- also some potential adverse effects, which might derive from the high content of cholesterol and saturated fatty acids (for coronary heart disease risk), and iron (for colon cancer due to the endogenous formation of N-nitroso compounds in the gastro-intestinal tract).

In this study the authors examined the association of red meat, processed meat, and poultry consumption with the risk of early death, in 448,568 men and women without prevalent cancer, stroke, or myocardial infarction, and with complete information on diet, smoking, physical activity and body mass index, who were between 35 and 69 years old at baseline.

After correction for measurement error, the results support a positive association between processed meat consumption and all-cause mortality, in particular due to cardiovascular diseases. Participants with an intake of 160+ g red meat/day had a hazard ratio (HR) = 1.37 (95% confidence interval 1.23 to 1.54) compared with individuals with an intake of 10 to 19.9 g/day, but also to cancer. The association for processed meat was stronger than for red meat. The consumption of poultry was not related to all-cause mortality.

The authors estimated that 3.3% of deaths could be prevented if all participants had a processed meat consumption of less than 20 g/day.