Posted by: Lowell | March 31, 2009

Recent Study on Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Early Death

You’ll probably hear a ton in the press about this, and it will end up being referenced as one of those “gold standard” studies that proves things beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Don’t take it at face value. 

Here’s a mainstream press article on the study:

There are a variety of flaws with this.  The underlying study is fine, it’s just that unfounded conclusions are being made and the inherent error of the study is being largely overlooked.  It’s an observational study for one, with self reporting—so at best it is valid for generating hypotheses for further testing, but not for determining causation.  It also doesn’t control for all kinds of other factors.  Going from 0 to 1/4 pound of red meat on top of a traditional western diet will very possibly be a problem… that’s like the earlier study that said low-carb diets were no more or less effective than others when they compared 45% carb to 65% carb.

They aren’t in any way testing whether red meat is the issue.  They aren’t testing whether processed meat is the issue.  They’re observing correlation (NOT causation) between them and other factors which are not measured nor controlled.  The fact that it’s a large study is taken to mean it’s the gold standard, when it’s truly poor from a study quality perspective.  They didn’t test if non-red meat eaters started eating red meat what happens, or the other way around… it’s loose correlation based on bad data.  The way the data itself was collected is highly error prone.
This is a classic example of bad science masquerading as good.  There is a mountain of evidence that contradicts this based on much higher quality science, across observational, epidemiological, biochemical, anthropological, and medical fields.

I can’t tell you how upset this kind of journalism and science makes me.  They’re hurting the public, they’re hurting the country, and they are putting lives at risk.

Addressing the various dubious claims and conclusions in the study, via some additional links… this isn’t comprehensive by any means, it’s just a quick collection I pulled together in a few minutes (and all from one of my favorite sources, Dr. Eades):

Observational (and even epidemiological) studies are often flawed and misunderstood:

Red Meat and Colon Cancer (and generally stuff about red meat):

Saturated Fat is Not Bad:

Vegetarians Are Healthier?  Not really:

I just… I try to stay rational and unemotional about these things.  And when presented with a new study like this one, I keep open minded and take a look to see if there’s new information that can help me refine my understanding.

So I actually went and read the study:

And the accompanying editorial:

After careful consideration, I just can’t help but feel pain and despair for the propagation of unhealthy misunderstandings and detrimental advice.  With all the trouble we’re having with health as a society already, the last thing we need is more well-meaning misinformation causing people to reduce their health.

It’s not intentional, they mean well, but they are shortening lifespans and reducing quality of life.

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