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Processed Meat Early Death Link

07 Mar 2013

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Sausages and other kinds of processed meats have been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer and early deaths

BBC

Sausages, ham, bacon and other processed meats appear to increase the risk of dying young, a study of half a million people across Europe suggests.

It concluded diets high in processed meats were linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer and early deaths.

The researchers, writing in the journal BMC Medicine, said salt and chemicals used to preserve the meat may damage health.

The British Heart Foundation suggested opting for leaner cuts of meat.

The study followed people from 10 European countries for nearly 13 years on average.

It showed that people who munched on a lot of processed meat were also more likely to smoke, be obese and have other behaviours which are known to damage health.

However, the researchers said that even after those risk factors were accounted for, processed meat still damaged health.

One in every 17 people followed in the study died. However, those eating more than 160g of processed meat a day - roughly two sausage and a slice of bacon - were 44% more likely to die over a typical follow up time of 12.7 years than those eating about 20g.

In total, nearly 10,000 people died from cancer and 5,500 from heart problems.

Prof Sabine Rohrmann, from the University of Zurich, told the BBC: "High meat consumption, especially processed meat, is associated with a less healthy lifestyle.

"But after adjusting for smoking, obesity and other confounders we think there is a risk of eating processed meat.

"Stopping smoking is more important than cutting meat, but I would recommend people reduce their meat intake."

She said that if everyone in the study consumed no more than 20g of processed meat a day then 3% of the premature deaths could have been prevented.

The UK government recommends eating no more than 70g of processed meat - two slices of bacon - a day.

However a little bit of meat, even processed meat, had health benefits in the study.

Prof Rohrmann said some "chocolate vegetarians" who ditched meat but did not alter the rest of their diet may be missing out on vital nutrients such as iron.

Dr Rachel Thompson, from the World Cancer Research Fund, said: "This research adds to the body of scientific evidence highlighting the health risks of eating processed meat.

"Our research, published in 2007 and subsequently confirmed in 2011, shows strong evidence that eating processed meat, such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, salami and some sausages, increases the risk of getting bowel cancer."

The organisation said there would be 4,000 fewer cases of bowel cancer in people had less than 10g a day.

"This is why World Cancer Research Fund recommends people avoid processed meat," said Dr Thompson.

Tracy Parker, a heart health dietitian with the British Heart Foundation, said: "With spring in the air, many of us may be looking forward to sunny barbecues.

"But this research suggests processed meat, such as sausages and burgers, may be linked to an increased risk of early death.

"However, the people who ate the most processed meat in this study also made other unhealthy lifestyle choices. They were found to eat less fruit and vegetables and were more likely to smoke, which may have had an impact on results.

"Red meat can still be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.

"Opting for leaner cuts and using healthier cooking methods such as grilling will help to keep your heart healthy. If you eat lots of processed meat, try to vary your diet with other protein choices such as chicken, fish, beans or lentils."

Tags: Wellbeing, Featured, PROCESSED MEAT, EARLY DEATH, Cancer

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