Media reports continue to greatly exaggerate scientific findings and advice. Recent scary headlines proclaimed that processed meats are as dangerous as cigarettes and asbestos. Wait. What?
I actually heard a newscaster say this. The real research findings are, of course, a lot more complicated. Wouldn’t it be great if people who write the news actually read the research, rather than copying what they’ve read from other news articles?
Let’s Look at the Facts on Processed and Red Meat Cancer Risk
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, evaluated the cancer causing likelihood of processed meats (such as bacon and ham) and red meat.
While the IARC did indeed put processed meats in the same category as smoking, it’s a matter of how sure they are that eating processed meats increases the risk of cancer. It does not say that eating bacon every day for breakfast is in the same league healthwise as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
According to the IARC’s report, recent estimates by the Global Burden of Disease project, an independent academic research organization, diets high in processed meats may contribute to around 34,000 cancer deaths per year. Eating red meat regularly hasn’t been established as a cancer cause, but that same organization estimates that red meat could cause roughly 50,000 cancer deaths annually – worldwide.
Don’t Panic About Processed and Red Meat Cancer Risk
Some popular media outlets such as Gizmodo are rightfully urging people not to panic. The IRAC report notes that tobacco smoking causes around a million cancer deaths annually worldwide, and alcohol consumption causes about 600,000. Another 200,000 die per year because of air pollution.
Air pollution! Where are the news headlines screaming that breathing air is nearly six times more dangerous than eating ham and sausage regularly?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), well over a million people a year die in traffic accidents. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows over 130,000 people in the U.S. die of some sort of accident over a year’s time.
It doesn’t take any complex math to figure out that smoking and drinking cause way more deaths than processed meats, as do car accidents (and accidents in general).
What kills fewer people than meat? Well, lightning strikes kill less than two people a year in the U.S., on average.
Are There Benefits to Meat Eating?
More and more studies are showing that low carb, high protein diets work better for weight loss than high-carb, low-fat diets.
It’s no wonder many experts believe that science is broken. This Vox.com article shows a chart of how everything you eat both causes and prevents cancer, based on various research studies. The article also describes how scientists can basically make their research results show anything they want.
One Study Doesn’t Have All the Answers
It’s important to look closely at the actual research before making any judgment call, and even then, remember that one study doesn’t make it so. In fact, many studies are so flawed that they have no redeeming value whatsoever. One government analysis of 300 research papers found that 214 (71 percent) offered “no enduring value” and only 11 (4 percent) were identified as having “high enduring value.”
This is far from a new problem. Even long before this article from 2005 was written, describing how and why many research findings are completely false or at least unreliable, experts have expressed concerns about the inability to duplicate many scientific findings.
Indeed, drug companies and other corporations who profit from medical products have, for many years, made sure that unfavorable studies don’t ever see the light of day. That means that a drug your doctor prescribes might have side effects she doesn’t know about or might not even be very effective. The studies showing that a drug had ugly side effects or didn’t work very well were conveniently swept under the rug and never published.
That’s right – many prescription drugs on the market, some of which you or your loved ones might be taking, don’t do what they’re supposed to do, and may even be dangerous. This goes for medical procedures as well. One analysis showed that more than 40 percent of established medical practices are either worthless or harmful.
What Can We Do?
Don’t be guided by sound bites. If you hear or read something that catches your interest, look up the actual research. You may be able to find it via Google’s research paper site or through your library’s online research.
Don’t think one study has all the answers. And don’t believe that because something is standard medical practice, it’s the best thing for you. Remember how doctors used to think ulcers were caused by stress or eating the wrong foods? Doctors now cure most ulcers with antibiotics to combat the H-pylori bacteria that causes the large majority of them.
Don’t believe that any medication won’t cause side effects. Any medication can have side effects, even some that don’t get listed on the official prescribing information. Your doctor probably has only the information provided by the drug companies, and drug companies want you to think the benefits outweigh the risks and side effects.
Trust no one, or at least, trust, but verify. Don’t even trust the research cited in this post. Perform more research, and decide for yourself.
How About You?
What research studies in the news have caught your eyes and ears? Did you take any action or change your lifestyle as a result? Did you ever feel like you’ve been “had” by faulty research, worthless medical procedures or drugs that didn’t live up to their claims?
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