Media ReleaseFrom: American College of Physicians
New guidelines: No need to reduce red or processed meat consumption for good health
A rigorous series of reviews of the evidence found little to no health benefits for reducing red or processed meat consumption
Based on a series of 5 high-quality systematic reviews of the relationship between meat consumption and health, a panel of experts recommends that most people can continue to consume red meat and processed meat at their average current consumption levels. Current estimates suggest that adults in North America and Europe consume red meat and processed meat about 3 to 4 times per week. The evidence reviews and recommendations are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
Researchers from Dalhousie University and McMaster University in Canada, together with the Spanish (Iberoamerican) and Polish Cochrane Centers, performed four parallel systematic reviews that focused both on randomized controlled trials and observational studies addressing the possible impact of red meat and processed meat consumption on cardiometabolic and cancer outcomes. A fifth systematic review addressed people’s health-related values and preferences on meat consumption. Based on those reviews, a panel comprised of fourteen members from seven countries voted on recommendations for red and processed meat consumption. Their conclusion that most adults should continue to eat their current levels of red and processed meat intake, is contrary to almost all other guidelines that exist.
Among 12 randomized trials enrolling about 54,000 individuals, the researchers did not find statistically significant or an important association between meat consumption and the risk of heart disease, diabetes, or cancer. Amongst cohort studies following millions of participants, the researchers did find a very small reduction in risk amongst those who consumed three fewer servings of red or processed meat per week. However, the association was very uncertain.
In addition to studying health effects, the authors also looked at people’s attitudes and health-related values surrounding eating red and processed meat. They found that people ate meat because they liked it or perceived it as healthy and would be reluctant to change their habits. The authors say they did not consider ethical or environmental reasons for abstaining from meat in their recommendations, however, these are valid and important concerns, though concerns that do not bear on individual health.
The researchers used the Nutritional Recommendations (NutriRECS) guideline development process, which includes rigorous systematic review methodology, and GRADE methods to rate the certainty of evidence for each outcome and to move from evidence to dietary recommendations to develop their guidelines. According to the authors, this is important because dietary guideline recommendations require close consideration of the certainty in the evidence, the magnitude of the potential harms and benefits, and explicit consideration of people’s values and preferences. Most nutritional recommendations are based on unreliable observational studies. However, the authors note that their recommendations are weak, based on low-certainty evidence. Of note, there may be reasons other than health concerns for reducing meat consumption.
The authors of an accompanying editorial from Indiana University School of Medicine say that while the new recommendations are bound to be controversial, they are based on the most comprehensive reviews of the evidence to date. Those that seek to dispute the NutriRECS findings will be hard-pressed finding appropriate evidence with which to build an argument.
Notes and media contacts: The meat recommendations include 5 reviews, a recommendation, and an editorial. For embargoed PDFs please contact Lauren Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.