Results from our latest population-level study show that regular meat consumption might be associated with the risk of many diseases that we haven’t previously considered.
The big question
High intakes of red and processed meat have repeatedly been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. But less is known about other potential health impacts of meat consumption My colleagues and I at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Population Health have published a study in BMC Medicine that examines associations between meat consumption and 25 common non-cancer diseases.
Our research was based on data from almost 475,000 British adults participating in the UK Biobank. At the start of the study, each participant completed a questionnaire which assessed their dietary habits (including meat intake), after which they were followed-up for an average period of eight years. We monitored for 25 major causes of non-cancerous hospital admissions, using data from the NHS Central Registers.
What we found
Overall, participants who consumed unprocessed red and processed meat regularly (three or more times per week) were more likely than low meat-eaters to smoke, drink alcohol, have overweight or obesity, and eat less fruit and vegetables, fibre, and fish.
Even when we took these factors into account, our results showed that regular meat consumption was positively associated with a range of diseases. In particular:
- Higher consumption of unprocessed red and processed meat combined was associated with higher risks of developing ischaemic heart disease, pneumonia, diverticular disease, colon polyps, and diabetes.
- Higher consumption of poultry was associated with higher risks of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, gastritis and duodenitis, diverticular disease, gallbladder disease, and diabetes.