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North American Meat Institute Statement on JAMA Dietary Factors and Mortality Study

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Attribute to KatieRose McCullough, Ph.D., North American Meat Institute Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs

“A new study suggesting processed and red meats are major contributors to deaths from heart disease, stroke and diabetes appears to be based not on an objective analysis of diet and other health and lifestyle habits, but on a statistical analysis of the authors’ assumptions about which foods are good and which are bad. For instance, the researchers begin by saying ANY intake of processed meat is “suboptimal.” Based on that logic, if someone indicates they consume any processed meats and then later dies of a heart attack, the authors’ analysis will automatically say that processed meat was a contributor. It is a study designed to reach a particular conclusion.

Curiously, although the authors recommend people eat just one serving of red meat per week, far below the amount recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a nearly non-existent effect on mortality is found. The fact is, all meat must be processed before we consume it. Sometimes the processing occurs at home when meat is chopped, seasoned and cooked and other times it occurs in a plant when meat is chopped, seasoned and cooked on a larger scale. Such different findings for meat prepared at home and meat prepared at a plant don’t make sense and the authors neither define processed meat in the research nor do they attempt to account for the difference.

The narrow focus of the research also raises red flags. The authors chose to evaluate only 10 foods and nutrients, which is a small sliver of the American diet. We eat foods in combination with each other – not in isolation – and lifestyle factors such as exercise, smoking, body weight, among others, all contribute to health outcomes. Zeroing in on the “suspect” without looking at the complete picture is not credible science.

When it comes to meat, consumers are best served following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which say red and processed meat can be part of a healthy dietary pattern and also note that most Americans already eat meat products at recommended levels. Both fresh red meat and products such as ham, bacon, salami and other favorites are nutrient dense foods that offer substantial nutritional benefits. Encouraging reduced consumption below the very appropriate levels consumed today stands to harm the public health and place Americans at risk of nutrition deficiencies. Finally, the Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recognized that people who follow the widely touted Mediterranean Diet eat twice as many processed meats as those who follow the USDA pattern – a fact that was overlooked by the authors.”

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