The findings support the research of other scientists, as well as the advice of several health groups, that people should tend to avoid diets rich in red meat, such as hamburger, and processed meats, such as hot dogs, cold cuts and bacon.
In the study, the scientists examined over 545,000 people in the 50-71 age category through a questionnaire on their eating habits. The subjects were followed for 10 years, in which time there were more than 70,000 deaths, said lead author Rashmi Sinha of the National Cancer Institute. In analyzing their data, the scientists accounted for other risk factors, such as smoking, high body mass index and family history of cancer.
The participants who consumed the most red meat ate the equivalent of a quarter-pound hamburger a day, while those who consumed the least ate just 5 ounces a week.
The researchers found that, over the 10 years, the men who were heavy red-meat eaters had a 22 percent higher chance of dying of cancer and a 27 percent greater chance of dying of heart disease. The women who took in the most red meat were 20 percent more likely to die of cancer and 50 percent more likely to die of heart disease than the women who ate the least red meat.
With processed meats, the rise in mortality risk was generally a bit lower than with red meat. Participants who tended to eat more white meat, such as chicken and fish, had lower death risk.
Elisabetta Politi of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C., counseled Americans to make subtle dietary changes in the direction of eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.
“I’m not saying everybody should turn into vegetarians,” she said. “Meat should be a supporting actor on the plate, not the main character.”
Shalene McNeill, dietitian for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was skeptical about the findings, saying that lean meat is healthy, provided it’s part of a balanced diet, exercise and avoidance of smoking.