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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Harvard and Red Meat

A team of researchers, with a heavy statistical input, has gained global publicity this week with a report that claims definitively to have shown that humans who eat significant quantities of red meat [beef, lamb, pork, venison etc] have an enhanced chance of dying 'prematurely'. Those whose intake of red meat includes processed red meat [bacon, burgers, sausages etc] are said to be at even greater risk.

The research does not tell us whether or not the red meat eaters have red wine with their meat, or how much wine. It does not tell us whether the higher death rate coincides with people who eat fried potatoes with their meat. Are whisky drinkers more or less likely to die early from eating red meat? Are the early deaths also associated with smoking? Are the red meat eaters more or less obese than the norm?

To take a single factor in lifestyle and attribute an outcome to 'high' or 'low' exposure to that one element carries no conviction whatsoever. This applies to the entirely arbitrary 'safe limits' for alcohol consumption as much as to any other attempt to consider one lifestyle factor in isolation; and the validity of any such research depends on survey results which assume that respondents give accurate data to the researchers. The media love such news releases because they like to scare the public. Health scares do attract attention; but older and wiser people have heard so many such reports of research outcomes that they treat them with entirely appropriate scepticism.

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