Processed meat blamed for one in 30 early deaths
Processed meat is to blame for one in 30 early deaths, a large-scale study has found.
Diets laden with pies, sausages, and ready meals have been linked to deaths from cancer and heart disease.
Limiting processed meat intake to just a chipolata a day could prevent 3,000 early deaths a year in Britain alone, according to one of the largest studies of its kind.
Researchers calculated that cutting daily processed meat intake to 20g (just under an ounce) would reduce premature deaths by 3.3 per cent – the equivalent of one rasher of bacon.
About 100,000 people die prematurely in Britain every year, before the age of 65, suggesting the reduction could prevent about 3,000 early deaths a year.
The scientists, who followed the health of almost 450,000 people aged 35 to 69, found the more processed meat people ate, the more likely they were to die early from any cause.
This was true even after attempting to account for the fact that those who eat more meat tend to be less active, drink more and smoke.
High processed meat consumption led to a 72 per cent increased risk of dying from heart disease, and an 11 per cent increased risk of dying from cancer.
Professor Sabine Rohrmann, who led the analysis of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study, said: “Risks of dying earlier from cancer and cardiovascular disease also increased with the amount of processed meat eaten.
“Overall, we estimate that three per cent of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20g processed meat per day."
Over a typical follow up time of almost 13 years, the risk of dying from any cause was 44 per cent greater for high processed meat consumers.
The researchers also found an indication that eating a lot of unprocessed red meat resulted in higher death rates, although this link was not strong enough for them to consider it statistically valid.
But Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietitian from the Meat Advisory Panel, said: “This study should not put you off the odd bacon sandwich.”
She argued that such studies could never truly account for lifestyle differences, and isolate the supposed role of meat intake in death rates.
“If you’ve got someone who’s overweight, watching television for hours, munching a meat pie and smoking a fag, which one of those is relevant?” she asked.
“You can’t say reducing processed meat intake will reduce mortality rates by three per cent."
The scientists found that, in general, diets high in processed meat were linked to unhealthy lifestyles.
Men and women who ate the most processed meat ate the fewest fruits and vegetables, and were more likely to smoke. Men, but not women, who ate a lot of meat also tended to have high level of alcohol consumption - but they say the data was adjusted to take account of these factors.
A small amount of red meat may actually have health benefits, they added, as it contains essential vitamins and minerals which may be missing from a vegetarian diet.