Step away from the hot dog and no one gets hurt.
This week the World Health Organization (WHO) made headlines by classifying processed meat in the "carcinogenic to humans" category. Additionally, red meats that are unprocessed are now listed as “probably carcinogenic to humans."1
The decision to classify these meats in this carcinogenic category was based on studies linking these meats to colon and colorectal cancers; the WHO reports that diet-related cancer deaths annually total 34,000 worldwide. Despite the report, the WHO does say that red meat has "nutritional value" and that there is a relatively small cancer risk, but the risk does exist.
"For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed," said Kurt Straif, MD, Head of the International Agency for Research on Cancer Monographs Programme, in a press release. "In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance."
Your risk for developing colorectal cancer due to processed meats (meat which is salted, cured, or smoked) is increased by 18% when you consume a daily amount of 50 gm or more. This is equivalent to about two slices of ham—that's not a lot of meat!2 Most ham sandwiches are far from a slim two slices. In fact, most Americans and Canadians spend approximately 14.5% of their food bill on meat and poultry which equates to $654 per capita.3 Now that’s a whole lot of meat!
Needless to say, the meat industry is not happy about this decision. In response to the WHO’s report, the North American Meat Institute responded by calling it “dramatic and alarmist overreach,” and went on to say that it "defies both common sense and numerous studies showing no correlation between meat and cancer."3
Will this WHO report change the way you approach eating meats and/or counsel your patients on meat consumption?
- World Health Organization. (2015). IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat. International Agency for Cancer on Research.
- CNN Money. (2015). Processed meat causes cancer, says WHO.
- CNN Money. (2015). Meat industry slams cancer report: 'Alarmist' and 'theoretical'.