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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.

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