Yeah…About That Red Meat Study…

Yeah…About That Red Meat Study…


Too much red meat can be deadly, study says:

Is that extra bite of red meat really going to kill you? If it’s your fourth ounce in a day, it might.

People who eat the most red meat daily (about four ounces) are about a third more likely to die than those who eat the least (about 19 grams)…

Here’s what you really need to know about the study.

Study Background

The recent study is believed to be the largest study to date looking at the links between red and processed meat and their effect on the risk of death from cancer, heart disease, and other causes, Sinha tells WebMD.

Her team evaluated more than 500,000 men and women who participated in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Participants were between the ages of 50 and 71 when the study began in 1995, and all provided detailed information about their food intake.

The researchers followed them for 10 years, using the Social Security Administration’s databases to track causes of death. During the follow-up period, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died. (More…)

In other words, the study authors asked 500,000 people to fill out a quesionairre 13 years ago and then studied Social Security death records to see how many of them died.

That’s it. That’s the study.

How Much Meat Were They Eating

Big Hamburger2

The study breaks consumption of red/white/processed meats into five levels. Unfortunately for our metric deficient minds, they do so in grams per 1000 calories. For (y)our convenience, here is the info in ounces per standard 2000 calorie diet.

Median meat intake: Q1 (low) Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 (high)
Red 0.7 oz 1.5 oz 2.2 oz 3.0 oz 4.4 oz
White 0.7 oz 1.3 oz 1.6 oz 2.7 oz 4.6 oz
Processed 0.1 oz 0.3 oz 0.5 oz 0.9 oz 1.6 oz

Note: Red Meat included beef, pork, bacon, ham, hamburger, hot dogs, liver, pork sausage, steak, and meats in foods such as pizza, stews, and lasagna.

White meat included turkey, fish, chicken, chicken mixtures, and other meats.

Processed meat was either white or red meat that was cured, dried, or smoked, Sinha says, such as bacon, chicken sausage, lunch meats, and cold cuts.

Study Conclusion

The study’s conclusion: “Red and processed meat intakes were associated with modest increases in total mortality, cancer mortality, and cardiovascular disease mortality.”

The table below provides the study’s “Hazard Ratio.” Those in Q1 ate the least red meat. Those in Q5 the most. According to the study’s results, Men in Q5 died at a rate of 1.31 for every death in Q1.

Sex and Meat Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5
Men Red Meat 1 1.06 1.14 1.21 1.31
Men White Meat 1 0.92 0.90 0.90 0.92
Women Red Meat 1 1.08 1.17 1.28 1.36
Women White Meat 1 0.96 0.94 0.95 0.92

Other Possible Causes

fritos jalapeno cheddar cheese

There are lots of reasons why people die. The focus of this study was on red meat consumption. But let’s also look at some of the other characteristics of the people who participated in this study. Below is the study’s data regarding some characteristics of men who had the lowest and highest red meat intake.

Other Factor Lowest Red Meat Highest Red Meat
BMI 25.9 28.3
Never a Smoker 34.4% 25.4%
Current smoker/quit < 1 year 4.9% 14.8%
Vigorous Physical activity > 4 times/wk 30.7% 16.3%
Calories/day 1899 2116


In words, among the men who consumed the most red meat, they:

  • Had a BMI that was 2.4 higher. For a 5’11” person, that means they were about 16 pounds heavier;
  • Were three times more likely to be a current smoker or have recently quit;
  • Were half as likely to engage in “vigorous physical activity” five times a week;
  • Ate 200 more calories a day;

And yet the problem is red meat?

The study’s Adjusted Hazard Ratio was the author’s attempt to compensate for the above factors, among others. Let’s compare the Men’s Adjusted Hazard Ratio to the Men’s Basic Hazard Ratio.

Sex and Meat Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5
Adjusted Red Meat 1 1.06 1.14 1.21 1.31
Basic Red Meat 1 1.07 1.17 1.27 1.48

So, using the basic model, Men who ate the most red meat actually died at a rate of 1.48 to 1 compared to men who ate the least red meat. Why? Because they were more unhealthy overall.

Did the fact that they eat more red meat probably contribute to that? Sure.

Was it as big a factor as the study says? I doubt it.

Per Capita Beef Consumption

Per capita beef consumption was higher in 1910 than it is today.

There are lots of things that are “wrong” with the typical American diet. I don’t think however that the media has done a good job of letting us know that we did listen to what the experts have been saying about “meat” over the last 30 years.

Compare the amounts and ratios between 1970 and 2006 and tell me that people haven’t been listening.

Year Beef Pork Fish Eggs Chicken Turkey
1910 70.4 62.3 306 15.5
1920 59.1 63.5 299 13.7
1930 48.9 67.0 10.3 331 15.7 1.5
1940 54.9 73.5 10.6 319 14.1 2.9
1950 63.4 69.2 11.6 389 20.6 4.1
1960 85.1 77.6 10.3 335 27.8 6.2
1970 84.4 61.9 11.8 309 40.1 8.1
1980 72.1 52.1 12.4 271 32.7 8.1
1990 63.9 46.4 14.9 234 42.4 13.8
2000 64.5 47.8 15.2 250 53.2 13.7
2006 62.7 46.0 16.5 251 61.3 13.3

Sources: here and here and here and here.

Related Reading:


  1. For what its Worth

    Here are the full Hazard Rates for the Basic Model.

    Sex and Meat Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5
    Men Red Meat 1 1.07 1.17 1.27 1.48
    Men White Meat 1 0.83 0.77 0.74 0.74
    Women Red Meat 1 1.11 1.24 1.43 1.63
    Women White Meat 1 0.87 0.81 0.78 0.76
  2. And, One More Thing…

    The cohort which participated in this study was “predominantly non-Hispanic white, more educated, consumed less fat and red meat and more fiber and fruits and vegetables, and had fewer current smokers than similarly aged adults in the US population.” In other words, people in this study were healthier than Americans in general.

  3. 13 years of study is not that long, though 500,000 participants is a good amount of pool.

    I don’t know if I can entirely disagree with you that the MSM has overreacted on this story. However, I do think that our diet has gone down hill in recent years. Meat (both red and white) used to be considered as something that you have every once in a while since it was expensive. Not anymore, since the mass production of food came along. I believe that we still don’t understand entirely the effects of growth hormones and other stuff that are being injected into our food. Measuring a pool of people for 13 years might not be suffice. I want to see how eating hormone injected food alter the life span/health for the following generations. Eating less meat, I think, will be healthier in the long run. It takes our body a lot of energy and time to break down protein vs. fiber. I could be wrong, but I thought I read somewhere that excessive red meat eaters also had colon cancer. Don’t get me wrong, I could never give up red meat, but I say moderation is the way to go.

  4. It would be interesting to see how much steroids are put into cows-into their diet and I think that is why some of these kids are so huge today!

  5. Pang,

    Just out of curiosity, what time frame are we talking about here?

    “Meat (both red and white) used to be considered as something that you have every once in a while since it was expensive.”

    Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. One income, 8 kids, and all of them in private school. We had meat with every meal. Why? Because my parents grew up eating meat at every meal. Why? Because their parents taught them the same thing. We’re going back about 80 years now. None of these generations were well off and meat was a staple, mostly red. Bacon, pork cutlets, liver, and hamburger is cheap and fuels hard work really well. Admittedly, this is in the midwest, where meat is likely the cheapest since it’s usually local, but still I’m curious what you mean when you say our diet has gotten worse in “recent years” due to meat no longer being somewhat of a luxury. I think Brian is more to the point of our diets being sacrificed to the profit gods of “Big Food” when they pump our food (and the animals) full of chemicals to increase production and longevity on the shelf. Being fair though, the upside to this is most likely cheaper food for more people, fwiw.

  6. @Niki,

    Also, to your point about kids being huge, I think you might find some interesting information if you look at the relationship to increased dual income families. When both parents work full time, it’s incredibly difficult for a child to get good whole-food balanced nutrition as more and more daycare facilities lean on bulkpack processed foods and parents who lack sufficient meal prep time are forced to boxed/frozen/preprepared foods, that we all know are chock full of the nasty stuff that contribute to obesity. Combine that with an increase in urban living and you get kids participating in fewer hours of exercise per week which only compounds the problem.

  7. Same with us growing up- we had meat all the time. Seemed like Chicken was the odd meal out. We grew up with meat from the butcher..always had a relative that we would buy the cow from them. Our freezer always had meat in it.

    I really didn’t mean kids overweight- though I totally agree with you that kids these days are in side way to much playing their video games etc. I remember being outside all the time. We would hike, bike etc. fights with the neighbors etc. I was refering more to the height etc. Just seems like the kids in high school are so much bigger then I remember the boys in my grades were. But could just be the old memory failing me again =).

    And with my husband -we are plain jane-just traditional pep for us. Though I do luv their Mexican fiesta one!

  8. @Niki,

    Ok, yeah, totally my misunderstanding. Not sure about the height, maybe you’re on to something. I haven’t personally noticed kids being taller than they used to be. Although I know that I’ve read people are getting taller in general, particularly in the western world. Then again, I think this has been happening for millennia.

  9. I think less and less are eating a heathly breakfast.. Look in the cereal row and those breakfast bars on the go. I understand being rushed in the morning and now moms work and a lot of kids are alone in the morning. Even though we always had a breakfast waiting for us. My breakfast is either coffee or a diet mt dew…so I really can’t talk.

    Kinda suprising that the meat didn’t go up with the Atkins diet. Isn’t that an all you can eat meat one?

  10. This is a good article on height through American history. Basically, through WWI we were taller than Europeans. Now, not so much.

    America was a good place to live in the eighteenth century. Game was abundant, land free for the clearing, settlement sparse enough to prevent epidemics. On Komlos’s graph, even the runaway slaves are five feet eight, and white colonists are five feet nine—a full three inches taller than the average European of the time. “So this is the eighteenth century,” Komlos said, slapping the files. “This is not problematic. It shows that Americans are well nourished. Terrific.” He reached into a cardboard folder and pulled out another series of graphs. “What is problematic is what comes next.”

    Around the time of the Civil War, Americans’ heights predictably decreased: Union soldiers dropped from sixty-eight to sixty-seven inches in the mid-eighteen-hundreds, and similar patterns held for West Point cadets, Amherst students, and free blacks in Maryland and Virginia. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, the country seemed set to regain its eminence. The economy was expanding at a dramatic rate, and public-hygiene campaigns were sweeping the cities clean at last: for the first time in American history, urbanites began to outgrow farmers.

    Then something strange happened. While heights in Europe continued to climb, Komlos said, “the U.S. just went flat.” In the First World War, the average American soldier was still two inches taller than the average German. But sometime around 1955 the situation began to reverse. The Germans and other Europeans went on to grow an extra two centimetres a decade, and some Asian populations several times more, yet Americans haven’t grown taller in fifty years. By now, even the Japanese—once the shortest industrialized people on earth—have nearly caught up with us, and Northern Europeans are three inches taller and rising.

    The average American man is only five feet nine and a half—less than an inch taller than the average soldier during the Revolutionary War. Women, meanwhile, seem to be getting smaller. According to the National Center for Health Statistics—which conducts periodic surveys of as many as thirty-five thousand Americans—women born in the late nineteen-fifties and early nineteen-sixties average just under five feet five. Those born a decade later are a third of an inch shorter.

    @Niki. And actually @Pang. I think what we are seeing is an incredible (in a bad way) segmentation of American society. Some of us understand and care that diet plays a massive role in our overall well being and are learning to adjust our diet in the face of the complete and utter abundance of modern society. Others are just content to get fat.

    With regard to high school, some kids want to be athletes and they work harder at it then kids in the past ever had to. These kids probably are a lot bigger than previous generations.

    Some kids don’t care. These kids will face great difficulty staying healthy throughout life.

  11. @Niki. Don’t slag on the coffee breakfast. There are no calories in coffee as long as you’re not putting sugar in it. There are conflicting studies as to whether coffee is good or bad overall, but its unlikely to kill you.

    It also kills the appetite, which means that you’re not eating. I think that the fact that the Q5 meat eaters were eating an extra 200 calories a day and were 16 pounds heavier is probably more important to their overall health than the fact they ate more meat.

    Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much.

  12. Wow – I feel like I’ve been missing out on the discussion!

    Ok, Mike – I don’t really have time-line exactly; I’m speaking from experience and what I have read/heard. When I was growing up, though in a different country, I remember not eating much beef. Pork and chicken were a little more common. Chicken were plentiful because many people in our little town, including my own family, raised them. Pork was cheaper than beef, so we had more of it. I remember having some sort of meat at every meal as well, though I don’t remember it being in such quantity that I can afford now or being offered in restaurants. I remember going to Fogo de Chao and seeing waiters came by our table to take half-eaten side dishes and threw them away. I know that they are not meat, but I feel that food has gotten so cheap. We’re so used to supersizing everything, and everything becomes cheaper in order for us to supersize. May be it’s not the frequency in which we have meat, but the quantity?

    @Niki – The FDA would say that growth hormones are perfectly safe to inject in our food supply, though there are many people out there who don’t buy the argument (hence organic food). Girls are reaching puberty much earlier, for example, which has been linked to food. However, I can also argue that our society is much more nourished now that our bodies may have evolved. Healthy societies have “bigger” citizens in general. Asians (from Asia) are still pretty short, while Asians (from western countries) are much taller.

    @Brian – I don’t think it’s a fair comparison when you just look at extremes. I don’t know what has caused the jump in 1970, but a regression would indicate that beef consumption is increasing over the years, even with the outlier of 1970 removed. I do agree with you that the MSM hasn’t done a good job at reporting stories in a more effective manner. They’re not being journalists, but merely reporting. So, good job with your analysis!

    My point is that I don’t think eating red meat is bad for you, at least in moderation. I don’t think anyone eat beef for all their meals everyday. As our society becomes more stressed, I think we eat less healthy food. Convenience rules. And I don’t think chemical-laced food is good for you either. We have cut off frozen food altogether. All the artificial flavoring, etc., can’t be good. Now, just to be clear, I’m not “free” of anything. I love food, and there are some bad food out there that you simply can’t avoid (no substitutes, etc.) If there are healthier substitutes, then I will lean toward the options.

  13. I understand some skepticism of the census numbers. My simplistic take on how they compute it is that they simply take the total amount of beef produced and divide it by the number of people in the country (accounting for exports and all that). But if that’s what they’ve been doing for years then the numbers are pretty clear: beef consumption peaked in 1960’s and 1970’s and has declined somewhere along the lines of 25% since then.

  14. Ha! I saw this article about a 4,800 calorie burger and had to post these pictures of my brother at King Kong.




  15. What’s King Kong, a burger joint? Are there four patties? The dog is either thinking “You’re crazy to think you can wrap your mouth around the burger” or “I bet you’ll drop some on the floor.” Craziness!

  16. I remember that!!! I about puke just thinking about it! You should have seen his face towards the end…but he never puked!

  17. Its a Nebraska based gyro/burger place. Yes, there are four patties. I don’t remember the size. Fortunately, he couldn’t get through the whole thing.

  18. I love King Kong!!!!!!

  19. That looks like a tasty burger. I think I’ll hit King Kong for lunch today!

  20. The burgers were good, if you get the normal size hamburger!

    Reminds me of that scene in the Great Outdoors with John Canady, when he takes that bet to eat that huge steak or something..How many ounces was that thing??

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