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Red or Processed Meats Lead to Increased Mortality Rates in Men and Wowen

raw_meatResearchers* assessed the 10 year (1995 to 2005) meat related eating habits of approximately 500,000 persons, aged 50-71, who lived in the United states, including consumption of red meat, white meat, and processed meat. Check the end of this report for a summary of the various types of meats included in this investigation and for a link to a free full-text PDF file of the original study.

Participants initially completed a 124 item food frequency questionnaire that tracked eating and drinking habits for 1 year as a baseline measurement. A variety of different mortality outcome measures were assessed, such as total mortality rate, specific causes of mortality, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD), mortality from sudden injury and death, and “other causes” of mortality, such as Alzheimer’s and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). An extensive number of potential confounds that included smoking, age, race, fruit and vegetable intake, alcohol consumption, marital status, family history of cancer, vitamin use, body mass index, and physical activity were co-varied (statistically controlled for) in the analysis. Researchers used hazard ratios to estimate the risks of mortality, or the lack thereof, from meat intake.

As you can imagine, the statistical findings were voluminous given the significant number of variables assessed in this study. Hence, I will only provide an overview of the primary outcomes. The results of the study were as follows:

  • Overall, “subjects who consumed more red meat tended to be married, more likely of non-Hispanic white ethnicity, more likely a current smoker, have a higher body mass index, and have a higher daily intake of energy, total fat, and saturated fat, and they tended to have lower education and physical activity levels and lower fruit, vegetable, fiber, and vitamin supplement intakes” (pg. 564).
  • Men and women who consumed the most red meat had an overall increased risk of total mortality, cancer, and CVD-related mortality.
  • Men (but not women) with higher consumption of red meat had an increased risk of death from injuries and sudden death
  • Men and women with the highest white meat intake had a decreased risk of total mortality, cancer mortality, and “other deaths.” However, for men there was a small increased risk in CVD.
  • Men and women with the highest processed meat intake had an increased risk of total, cancer, CVD mortality, and “other deaths”
  • “Overall mortality rates” for men and women could decrease 11% and 16%, respectively, if they adopted simiar red meat consumption habits as those who consumed the least
  • “CVD mortality rates” for men and women could decrease 11% and 21%, respectively, if they adopted similar red meat consumption habits as those who consumed the least

The good news for red meat eaters (like myself) is that the above hazard ratios are best described as “modest to small” effects. Nonetheless, individuals and their physicians will need to assess their overall lifestyle to determine whether or not red meat should be included their diet.

Last, the researchers cautioned that the population evaluated in this study were predominantly white (non-Hispanic) participants who may have been healthier and more educated than the overall U.S. population.

You can find a free PDF of the original study here.


*Sinha, R., Cross, A., Graubard, B., Leitzmann, M., & Schatzkin, A., (2009). Meat intake and mortality: A prospective study of over half a million people. Archives of Internal Medicine, 169(6), 562-571.

Red meats included bacon, beef, cold cuts, ham, hamburger, hot dogs, liver, pork, sausage, steak, and meats in foods such as pizza, chili, lasagna, and stew.

White meats included chicken, turkey, and fish and included poultry cold cuts, chicken mixtures, canned tuna, and low-fat sausages and low-fat hot dogs made from poultry.

Processed meats included bacon, red meat sausage, poultry sausage, luncheon meats (red and white meat), cold cuts (red and white meat), ham, regular hot dogs and low-fat hot dogs made from poultry.

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