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New Study: Driving & Watching Red Meat Can Kill You

Oops, I got my studies all confused, there. I also don’t seem to have a category named, simply, Stupid Shit. I’ll have to think about that.

I have to begin by apologizing to whomever came up with this idea first, because it wasn’t me. I think I saw it on someone’s blog yesterday and then the news articles began pouring in via email and comments on existing posts. Whomever that was, if you see this, please drop a comment or email me and I’ll include your link [right here].

Alright, cook it to medium or better, so it’s not red anymore…I guess?

I didn’t take much time to drill down, but I assume the sensation is all sensationally based on this sensational study, published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality.

So I had a bunch of links to read and apparently, as the title of the post suggests, got them all confused. See, there was another study that came out a couple of months ago that prompted some other news articles.

There’s an interesting juxtaposition at work in the news articles reporting on both of these studies vis-a-vis heart attack risk and early mortality. Let’s take a look at how the latter study was reported. From the first link:

Car owners with a television are 27 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than people who have neither, according to a global study on physical exercise and heart disease published Wednesday.

More broadly, the study — covering more than 29,000 people in 52 countries — showed that working up a light sweat may be the best preventative medicine against heart failure.

Until now, surprisingly little research has focused on how physical exertion at work and play influences the incidence of heart attacks, and even less has directly compared this data across nations at all income levels.

“This study shows that mild to moderate physical activity at work, and any level of activity during leisure time, reduces the risk of heart attacks,” said lead researcher Claes Held, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden.

It also “extends previous findings of the protective effect of leisure-time physical activity … to low- and middle-income countries.”

And, from the second:

According to a study published in the European Heart Journal, owning a car and a television is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, while physical activity during leisure time or work considerably reduces the risk of heart attacks in developed and developing nations.

Did you see that? The journalists (and probably the study authors) immediately, without flinching, put the data into proper context: having a car & TV means you’re less likely to get moderate, normal amounts of quotidian, mundane activity like walking or taking an evening stroll, and that’s the most likely cause of the problems—not that driving a car gives you heart disease.

You won’t find any such context in the former set of articles; such as, distinctions between processed meats and the processed foods they’re wrapped in, the other included ingredients, etc. In fact, the photos are not of Hot Pockets and frozen pizza and pot pies, but of whole, fresh and cooked meats.

…Nor did anyone suggest that the ability to purchase nice fresh meat might be a decent marker for more sedentary, generally glutinous behavior, such as owning a car and a TV could be a marker for.

Sorry, this was all just too stupid, predictable, and commonplace to spend much time on constructing a decent rant. Feel free to let lose in comments though.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

49 Comments

  1. Jackie on March 13, 2012 at 10:24

    You also have to remember this little tidbit from “Red Meat and Mortality”:

    “Men and women with higher intake of red meat were less likely to be physically active and were more likely to be current smokers, to drink alcohol, and to have a higher body mass index.”

    So it must be the red meat and not the fact that a lot of people that eat red meat smoke, drink, and don’t exercise.

    • Dragos on March 13, 2012 at 15:24

      can you provide a link to this?



    • Ash Simmonds on March 13, 2012 at 16:24

      Yeah, here’s the actual study: http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1134845

      Note, again:

      “Men and women with higher intake of red meat were less likely to be physically active and were more likely to be current smokers, to drink alcohol, and to have a higher body mass index.”

      Funny how every single study that the headlines go “oh noes red meat bad” shows that the people they were studying were lazy fat smokers and drunks.

      Also it doesn’t qualify the foods they were eating, just that they ate something like 85g a day of red meat, which leaves about 500g of *other* food that we just don’t hear about. In the study they were calling hot dogs red meat – yeah, 50g of processed meat in with bready meal in a high GI sugary bun with margarine and sugar-laden sauce, most likely washed down with half a litre of coke or a chocolate milkshake with bits of Snickers crumbled in it – but watch out man, that meat is gunna kill yo bitch.

      So yeah, until there’s something more than a dumb observational study which shows poor *association* with way too many confounding factors, not even a good correlation let alone causation, I’m sticking to the science I know – which conclusively shows there is no causation between meat and cancer or heart disease.

      LOL at this gem…

      “…the mean daily intake of unprocessed red meat dropped from 0.75 to 0.63 servings from 1986 to 2006 in men and from 1.10 to 0.55 servings from 1980 to 2006 in women.”

      Well blow me, DROPPING the intake of UNPROCESSED red meat is actually what caused cancer and heart disease, go figger.

      Also:

      “Red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths”
      In other words, 90% of early deaths are caused by lack of red meat. Shit.



  2. Nance on March 13, 2012 at 10:37

    Yeah, based on this study it definitely appears that eating read meat causes smoking, drinking and avoiding exercise. Who knew?

    • JayDub on March 13, 2012 at 12:24

      Thanks for clarifying 🙂 I’m going to pass that message along.



    • Nigel Kinbrum on March 13, 2012 at 14:22

      What’s black & white & read all over?
      This blog! 😀



  3. Stabby on March 13, 2012 at 10:37

    In the actual study they did differentiate between processed meats and fresh meats, but again there is no real context given, Like burger patties are “fresh meat” but if they come with loads of trans fats then that’s a confounder. And these sorts of studies absolutely can’t control for trans fats accurately.

    They didn’t control for cooking temperature. Okay I really do think that overcooked meat can be unhealthy, and I take flack for this from paleos because, hey, everyone loves grilling. And I say that it produces toxins and carcinogens if it isn’t marinaded properly, because it just plain does. Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf said it because they’re honest dudes but it’s kind of the elephant in the room that nobody really talks about enough.

    With regards to epidemiology most of the time controlling for type of cooking technique greatly attenuates or even reverses an association between red meat and various diseases. The paleo community tends to just say “meh correlation ain’t causation” and leave it at that, but when we see such big differences that warrants a deeper investigation. In Australia there is no association between red meat and risk of colon cancer, but interestingly enough baked red meat is strongly protective in comparison to other cooking techniques http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21364608 Indicating that there is something to this cooking stuff. Whole health Source is going to get into the nitty gritty of cooking temperature and method soon, and has touched on it in the past. It strikes me as reasonable that many people are overcooking their meat and it creates a statistic, but not one representative of red meat per se, just the way it is cooked.

    There is also a subset of the population who gets iron overload, but they’re a subset. In general heme iron is damaging to the body if left unchecked but adequate antioxidant intake, particularly the many types of vitamin e from real food is protective. But this isn’t “heme iron bad, antioxidants good”, it’s just that everyone needs to watch their iron levels and make sure to be eating a nutritious diet. If a diet is generally healthy there has never been any health risk observed in a controlled trial from red meat.

    That’s my take. I do think that there are issues to look at besides the fact that these sorts of news articles are completely vacuous and miss the point entirely. And that is a completely fair criticism and it’s kind of hard to go from “ooh look a very small association between red meat and mortality” to “now we have to go look at what might be wrong with red meat”.

    • Richard Nikoley on March 13, 2012 at 10:45

      “They didn’t control for cooking temperature. Okay I really do think that overcooked meat can be unhealthy, and I take flack for this from paleos because, hey, everyone loves grilling. And I say that it produces toxins and carcinogens if it isn’t marinaded properly, because it just plain does. Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf said it because they’re honest dudes but it’s kind of the elephant in the room that nobody really talks about enough.”

      I’m very skeptical of that, simply because in an evolutionary context, grilling was essentially the only way to cook meat for a long time. I believe it’s the Hazda who put their meat directly right into the campfire.

      I’m not adverse to the idea that braising, crock pots and roasts are more optimal in terms of toxic load. I’m merely skeptical of the idea that the toxins formed by grilling are truly harmful to humans in the dose they get, or that they aren’t mitigated by other factors. And again, there’s always the confounders because studies that look at this will be looking at people with systemic inflammation, most likely, so perhaps the only thing you can really say is that if you’re going to eat the SAD, then be wise about how you cook meat.

      That said, I don’t grill super often. And I never go beyond pink in the inside.



    • Stabby on March 13, 2012 at 10:58

      That’s fair. I think that if the diet is generally good and there is a lot of protection then it probably isn’t much of a risk. If the ability to counteract inflammation is good, if we have lots of antioxidants, particularly glutathione, and other protective factors like vegetables in the meal then it is going to be less of a factor in anything.

      So I agree it might be right of paleos to say that they have more immunity to toxins, they invariably do. Like you said, the SAD is a different story. The SAD is basically a human lab rat experiment. Lab rats can be killed by a lot of things, their lifestyles are so deficient and unnatural that they can get cancer but simply adding in normal nutrients like vitamin e, calcium, and fibre suppresses the effect of red meat on colon carcinogenesis to where it isn’t an issue. And the lesson wouldn’t be “red meat bad, nutrients good”, just that we need to have proper nutrition for red meat to be handled properly by the body.



    • Neal Matheson on March 14, 2012 at 00:39

      Hadza aborigines ache Ituri virtually everyone who cooks with a campfire. I was sceprtical of the whole high temperatures thing for that reason. The study is so bad we don’t have to go down that road anyway.



  4. trr on March 13, 2012 at 10:59

    I don’t put much faith in the data, but even still the glaring omission to me was not controlling for sugar and refined starch given that they controlled for pretty much every other food category. With what they controlled for, a NY Strip with a couple baked sweet potatoes would look the same as a Double Quarter Pounder and 32oz Coke in the data. Since the data is collected from health professionals who are chronically stressed and short on time, I’d guess that the majority of their consumption was skewed toward the latter. Without any analysis of quality vs quantity of food preparation, there are no valid conclusions to draw (other than the usual conclusion that nutrition research is of terrible quality).

  5. jake on March 13, 2012 at 11:03

    according to the study itself: “Diet was assessed by validated food frequency questionnaires and updated every 4 years.”

    so every four years, they ask a massive group of people to fill out a ~160 question diet survey. that’s a great way to form a hypothesis about something, but it’s just not any sort of scientific standard of proof of… anything.

  6. jay jay on March 13, 2012 at 11:22

    No, No, No! It’s the CO2, people!!!

    http://sciencenordic.com/new-theory-co2-makes-you-fat

    • Richard Nikoley on March 13, 2012 at 11:33

      jay jay.

      Yea, Nigel Kinbum linked that in the previous comment thread. Funny, nd while I haven’t dug into it, the very same sorts of confounders apply. More CO2 because of more industry, comfort, wealth, sloth, etc.

      And note how, because Co2 enjoys the same religious anti-fervor as does red meat, it’s probably reported as a direct cause, just as meat.



    • Nigel Kinbrum on March 13, 2012 at 14:25

      That’s what I thought when I first read it. However, other species are also getting fatter.
      ““The probability that all animals of eight different species put on weight from random causes is one in 10,000,000,” says Hersoug.”



    • Richard Nikoley on March 13, 2012 at 15:08

      How much weight, as a percentage? Do they in any way track with the human obesity epidemic? Doubt it.



    • Nigel Kinbrum on March 13, 2012 at 19:34

      Wild animals’ diets haven’t changed much.
      Urban animals’ diets may have become more “cafeteria” in nature.
      Lab animals’ diets are controlled.



    • Paul C on March 15, 2012 at 13:53

      This is from that article. I don’t see anything about wild animals. To me that article paints a picture of lab interns giving industrial pet food to caged lab animals.

      2. A study from 2010, covering 20,000 animals in various laboratories, showed that all the animals put on weight, even though they were given food under controlled conditions and should therefore not have put on weight. The animals studied included dogs, cats, mice and monkeys. And when researchers studied rats in both urban and rural environments in the US, the result was the same.



    • Paul C on March 15, 2012 at 13:56

      This is laughable, from the same article.
      —————————

      CO2 is found in the bubbles in fizzy drinks and beer – does that have any importance for obesity?

      “Of course I have considered whether CO2 has very local impacts, which could explain how beer guts develop,” says the researcher.



    • gallier2 on March 14, 2012 at 05:23

      May be because CO2 is plant food. More CO2 = more plant growth = more food for herbivores = more food for carnivores.
      This anti-CO2 propaganda is as idiotic (and anti-humane) as the anti-sat-fat/cholesterol one. Essentially beneficial substances of central importance to sustain life are demonized for profit and political controle.



    • Nigel Kinbrum on March 13, 2012 at 14:27

      “Nigel Kinbum
      Oh, dear. Bad Richard!



  7. KC on March 13, 2012 at 11:26

    Straight from the researcher’s mouths…

    “Men and women with higher intake of red meat were less likely to be physically active and were more likely to be current smokers, to drink alcohol, and to have a higher body mass index (Table 1). In addition, a higher red meat intake was associated with a higher intake of total energy but lower intakes of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Unprocessed and processed red meat consumption was moderately correlated (r = 0.40 in the HPFS and 0.37 in the NHS). However, red meat consumption was less correlated with intakes of poultry and fish (Spearman correlation coefficients, r = –0.04 and –0.18 in the HPFS and r = 0.05 and –0.12 in the NHS, respectively). During follow-up, red meat intake declined in men and women (eFigure). For example, the mean daily intake of unprocessed red meat dropped from 0.75 to 0.63 servings from 1986 to 2006 in men and from 1.10 to 0.55 servings from 1980 to 2006 in women.”

    How many confounding factors can you count just in this single paragraph?

    • Richard Nikoley on March 13, 2012 at 11:31

      KC:

      I didn’t dig into either the study or the news articles for exactly this reason. I figured that as the media had correctly identified the confounders and more likely root cause for the car/tv association that they would purposefully ignore it in the case of red meat.

      Yep.



    • KC on March 13, 2012 at 11:35

      Indeed, I wouldn’t have wasted my time either except that numerous family members wrote me in a panic.

      My colleague and I are actually planning to request grant money for a new study we want to conduct. The hypothesis will be “breathing air causes death” and we are going to examine the lungs of the recently deceased to see how many corpses show evidence of breathing oxygen in the prior eight hours before death. Wish us luck!



    • JayDub on March 13, 2012 at 12:28

      What about “Being Born Raises Your Risk of Dying by 100%?



    • moreporkplease on March 13, 2012 at 15:52

      ““Men and women with higher intake of red meat were less likely to be physically active and were more likely to be current smokers. . .”

      And you can stop right there. Smokers die young on SAD. Is this news?



  8. Noodly James on March 13, 2012 at 11:33

    You know what I found interesting? The rise in atheism in this country has paralleled the rise in obesity. It’s also paralleled the rise in illegal immigrants from Estonia.

    • Richard Nikoley on March 13, 2012 at 11:37

      You know what else, Noodly, I’m pretty sure that the rise in toilet paper use and indoor plumbing closely tracks with CVD.



  9. Roland! on March 13, 2012 at 11:36

    To be blunt, intelligent discussions of this study seem pointless, but making fun of those who post it as another win against red meat is certainly a good time. The LA Times headline reads “Eating beef, pork, or lamb in any amount increases the risk of premature death, according to the new Harvard study.”

    Quoted from the study results; right there, so you don’t even have to think: “Men and women with higher intake of red meat were less likely to be physically active and were more likely to be current smokers, to drink alcohol, and to have a higher body mass index. In addition, a higher red meat intake was associated with a higher intake of total energy but lower intakes of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Unprocessed and processed red meat consumption was moderately correlated. However, red meat consumption was less correlated with intakes of poultry and fish.”

    The typical eater who eats a high level of meat also tends to do any number of things that lead to poor health, and the typical eater who eats a high level of processed meats does even more things that lead to poor health, as the “study result” shows.

  10. paleotard on March 13, 2012 at 11:47

    KC and I have requested for the grant to study the correlation of air in lungs linked to high death rates. Our hypothesis is this: Anyone can get grant money for stupid ass studies that are based upon biases, instead of actual scientific methods.

    We are going to be rich!

  11. mark on March 13, 2012 at 11:51

    Thanks Richard. Now what the fuck am I supposed to do??? I can eat TV in my car while watching a rib-eye?

  12. Aaron on March 13, 2012 at 13:04

    As I mentioned on Barefoot Ted’s Huarache Google Group, this was really just cherry picking for you, Richard. Wasn’t it?

    • Richard Nikoley on March 13, 2012 at 13:13

      Low hanging fruit, Aaron. Good thing I have carb room these days.



  13. Samantha Stevenson on March 13, 2012 at 13:10

    Just heard a health commentator on the BBC news make the most sensible recommendations that I’ve heard all day about this. She said that contributors in this ‘red meat is dangerous’ study were asked to record themselves what they had eaten and said “people are notorious for not putting exactly what they are eating, so it’s not entirely a trustworthy study anyway”. Then she proceeded to say that processed meat is worse than fresh, grass fed meat, so avoid that or eat as little as possible. However, sensible she said if we eat a simple diet the way that people have eaten for thousands of years – ie meat, fish, vegetables, fruit etc and some dairy if it agrees with you, we aren’t going to go too far wrong. She was going to go home and have fish and veg for supper and would be eating red meat, lamb etc as normal. Hooray, I thought. Sense!

    • Neal Matheson on March 14, 2012 at 00:51

      was that on the today programme? I heard it was coming up but was busy working when it aired. DR BRiffa is on R4 quite alot these days too. We need this shit here as the govt (and the last one) have been eyeing up food taxes for some time.



  14. Razwell on March 13, 2012 at 14:31

    Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian , the head of Harvard’s cardiovascular epidemiology department has even come out and publicly stated that there is no evidence that natural red meat causes coronary artery disease. Only very processed meats are *somewhat* linked.

    Here is a link to his podcast. It’s very good .

    http://www.meandmydiabetes.com/2010/11/13/saturated-fat-and-heart-disease-risk-dariush-mozaffarian/

  15. Bill Strahan on March 13, 2012 at 14:39

    So what if it’s true?

    I was strict vegetarian for about 6 months and that was all the study I needed to conclude:

    “Being vegetarian makes you wish you would die prematurely…like before your next meal.”

    I’m not going to spend my life eating what my food eats. I’ll just eat my food.

  16. alex on March 13, 2012 at 14:49

    I have shocking news for everyone…. healthy people die everyday. non-smokers ,exercisers , teatotalers all dropping like flies.

  17. Paul Winter on March 13, 2012 at 15:06

    “In an accompanying editorial (to the study ) Dr Dean Ornish, of the University of California, San Francisco, said that eating less red meat could also help tackle climate change. ”

    Need I say more.

  18. Paul Winter on March 13, 2012 at 15:17

    There is an article on Zoe Harcombe’s blog explaining the “science”.

  19. Bay Area Sparky on March 13, 2012 at 15:44

    Here’s proof that Driving and Not Watching Red Meat can also kill you:

  20. Clint - Crude Fitness on March 13, 2012 at 21:20

    ‘Life’ causes ‘Death’.
    True story.

  21. Neal Matheson on March 14, 2012 at 01:11

    I stole this from commenst on another blog;

    “This is politics, not science.”

    meat a benign extravagance, the omnivores dilemma, Meat is now needs to be apologised for, from essential part of diet to a benign extravagance.

    Why do we have to pick apart their studies?, why are their views immediatly assumed by lazy journalists?. The study shows that most red meat was eaten by people who didn’t care about their health, meaning most health concious people don’t eat red meat……which is fucking nuts!

  22. mark on March 14, 2012 at 05:29

    Maybe Dr. OZ was right. I guess I need to start eating my whole grains, soy burgers and super anti-oxidant bluberry skin powder shakes.

  23. Wolfstriked on March 14, 2012 at 10:13

    I have been saying all along that the reason people who eat red meat are more prone to heart attacks,is due to the rebellious nature of meat eaters in the past.They would say screw it and all the other rules that the government put out for health.Smoking,eating red meat,drinking alcohol heavily,salting away and consuming tons of sugar.They also ate tons of butter but as we are finding out now its not the saturated fat that causes heart disease.

  24. W3D3 – Our First Soup! (& Death by Meat) « BSS Diet on March 14, 2012 at 10:40

    […] There were a bunch of sensationalist headlines and much hand-wringing, which fortunately sprung some well-written reviews (1,2,3,4). […]

  25. Bill Strahan on March 14, 2012 at 19:31

    Wow, just took a look at the posting at dietdoctor. He has some printouts from the study, and what caught my eye was the %of people with high cholesterol. Sure, I don’t care about the high cholesterol, but how is it that no one pointed out the irony here? You can see the prinouts I’m referencing here: http://www.dietdoctor.com/do-unhealthy-meat-eaters-live-shorter-lives

    Basically, in the Health Professionals Follow up study, as you progress from least meat to most meat consumed, the % with high cholesterol drops! It goes 14.8, 11.1, 9.7,9.0,7.9. So the percentage of people with high cholesterol steadily drops as they eat more red meat! And the lower cholesterol levels are then associated with earlier death. Hmm.

    In the Nurses Health study, it has a similar though less perfect trend: 6.0,5.3,5.2,4.5,4.7. Again, the group with the highest percentage having high cholesterol occurs amongst those eating the least meat.

    So another conclusion I can draw from this study is the positive link between high cholesterol and longevity? How about people with already high cholesterol don’t like meat as much? Who knows, but I’m amazed no one is pointing this out.

  26. […] Richard Nikoley […]

  27. […] increases morbidity risk, and the amount of reaction to it from more logical people[2][3][4][5][6][7]. Then the New York Times posted this contest[8] asking people to submit in 600 words or […]

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