Does Eating Red Meat Cause Disease? Problems with the Previous Studies Suggesting This

The plant-based crowd is slamming the recent series of studies that concluded there’s not sufficient evidence for authorities to recommend eating less meat.

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Their claim: eating meat causes premature death & disease, which is backed by the “rigorous research” of the last 30 years. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ If someone tries to argue this with you, here’s your answer:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The “rigorous” research refers to a series of nutritional epidemiological studies. Let’s discuss the 2 main ones (results were published in attached article). ⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ In these observational studies, subjects were followed & asked to record dietary intake & other activities over a long period of time. The result: a database of disease, deaths, & food consumed. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The 2 studies were:

1️⃣ all male (Health Professionals Follow-up Study HPFS, 1986 – 2008, involving 37,698 men) &

2️⃣ all female (Nurses’ Health Study NHS, 1980 – 2008, involving 83,644 women). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The studies were not specifically designed to review health affects of meat consumption. Instead, they were intended to investigate the relationship between nutritional factors & the incidence of serious illnesses. The data was analyzed retrospectively to look for patterns... ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The data: Tables 1 & 2 (see images below).

Table 1 - separates the participants into quintiles based on total red meat consumption (Q1 = lowest meat consumption, and Q5 = highest) & lists the other data collected.

Table 2 – presents all cause mortality per quintile. ⠀⠀⠀


Problems with these studies:

1️⃣ Food consumption was self-reported using surveys. Social desirability bias is unavoidable since reported consumption can be affected by the perceived health status of certain foods. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 2️⃣ Meat categories in the surveys: “processed and unprocessed”. Unprocessed red meat included “beef, pork, or lamb” and “hamburgers” (LOL, definitely processed). Processed meat included bacon, hot dogs, and “sausage, salami, bologna, and other processed meats”. Grass vs grain fed not differentiated.

3️⃣ Confounding variables. Moving from the bottom quintile of meat eaters (Q1) to the top quintile (Q5), there is ALSO an increase in unhealthy behaviors (smoking, drinking, lack of exercise) & markers of unhealthy behaviors (BMI, blood pressure, diabetes). Could these other variables affect mortality? 🧐 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Plus, what was the nutritional scene during the 1980’s & 1990’s? Health authorities were preaching the “eat less fat & saturated fat, but eat more fruits, veggies & whole grains”. Health conscious individuals likely avoided red meat due to these nutritional guidelines. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 4️⃣ The numbers were small. The overall death rate was 1.18% and 0.68% for HPFS & NHS, respectively. A possible slightly higher death rate is still small. ⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 5️⃣ Conflict of interest. The studies are from the Harvard School of Public Health & one of the lead authors is Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of nutrition & epidemiology at Harvard who promotes a plant based diet. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 6️⃣ The authors claim causation when it was simply an association – 2 or more things happening at the same time. Are there other causal explanations for this association besides eating meat? See #3above. ⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Plus, the association between red meat consumption & premature death/chronic disease was small – a 0.2 fold increased risk (To compare, smoking results in a 20 fold increase in developing lung cancer & in the field of epidemiology an association < a 3- or 4-fold increase in risk isn’t taken seriously). ⠀⠀

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ➡️ The scientists missed a crucial step in research – they forgot to run follow up studies to test their hypothesis, developed from a simple association. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Keep eating meat. Our favorite source of high quality, grass fed and finished, regenerative meat is White Oak Pastures. If you choose to support White Oak Pastures, please use our code "strongsistas" at checkout to tell them who sent you! Thank you!