Reducing Meat Consumption Can Reduce the Risk of Diabetes and Cancer: Research


Would you give up bacon and burgers if it could prevent heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer? A new international simulation suggests that reducing Americans’ intake of processed meat by 30% could prevent over 350,000 cases of diabetes, 92,500 cases of heart disease, and 53,300 cases of colon cancer in the United States over ten years. This equates to cutting about ten slices of bacon a week, or just over one strip a day.

If Americans also reduced their consumption of red meat by 30%, the health benefits would be even greater. The study from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill projects nearly 1.1 million fewer cases of diabetes, 382,400 fewer cases of heart disease, and 84,400 fewer cases of colon cancer.

“National and international organizations, such as the Climate Change Committee in the UK and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have recommended reducing meat consumption to lower greenhouse gas emissions,” said co-author Lindsay Jaacks, head of global health and nutrition at the University of Edinburgh. “Our research shows that these dietary changes could also yield significant health benefits in the U.S., making it a win-win for both people and the planet,” she added in a news release from Edinburgh.

A 30% reduction in red meat consumption alone—equivalent to one quarter-pounder a week—could prevent more than 732,000 cases of diabetes, 291,500 cases of heart disease, and 32,200 cases of colon cancer, according to the study.

Who stands to benefit the most? Statistically, white men and those earning $25,000 to $55,000 a year, researchers found. They used data from a U.S. government health survey to simulate the health impacts of reduced meat consumption, describing their microsimulation as the first to estimate the effects on multiple health outcomes in the United States. The study calculated the impact of reductions ranging from 5% to 100%.

Researchers noted that while other studies have linked high levels of processed meats to chronic disease, few have examined the effect on multiple health outcomes. They found that reducing red meat consumption would prevent more diseases than cutting back on processed meat because Americans consume more red meat—47 grams a day (1.66 ounces)—compared to 29 grams (1.02 ounces) of processed meat daily.

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