There is limited prospective evidence on the association between meat consumption and many common, non-cancerous health outcomes. We examined associations of meat intake with risk of 25 common conditions (other than cancer).
We used data from 474,985 middle-aged adults recruited into the UK Biobank study between 2006 and 2010 and followed up until 2017 (mean follow-up 8.0 years) with available information on meat intake at baseline (collected via touchscreen questionnaire), and linked hospital admissions and mortality data. For a large sub-sample (~ 69,000), dietary intakes were re-measured three or more times using an online, 24-h recall questionnaire.
On average, participants who reported consuming meat regularly (three or more times per week) had more adverse health behaviours and characteristics than participants who consumed meat less regularly, and most of the positive associations observed for meat consumption and health risks were substantially attenuated after adjustment for body mass index (BMI). In multi-variable adjusted (including BMI) Cox regression models corrected for multiple testing, higher consumption of unprocessed red and processed meat combined was associated with higher risks of ischaemic heart disease (hazard ratio (HRs) per 70 g/day higher intake 1.15, 95% confidence intervals (CIs) 1.07–1.23), pneumonia (1.31, 1.18–1.44), diverticular disease (1.19, 1.11–1.28), colon polyps (1.10, 1.06–1.15), and diabetes (1.30, 1.20–1.42); results were similar for unprocessed red meat and processed meat intakes separately. Higher consumption of unprocessed red meat alone was associated with a lower risk of iron deficiency anaemia (IDA: HR per 50 g/day higher intake 0.80, 95% CIs 0.72–0.90). Higher poultry meat intake was associated with higher risks of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (HR per 30 g/day higher intake 1.17, 95% CIs 1.09–1.26), gastritis and duodenitis (1.12, 1.05–1.18), diverticular disease (1.10, 1.04–1.17), gallbladder disease (1.11, 1.04–1.19), and diabetes (1.14, 1.07–1.21), and a lower IDA risk (0.83, 0.76–0.90).
Higher unprocessed red meat, processed meat, and poultry meat consumption was associated with higher risks of several common conditions; higher BMI accounted for a substantial proportion of these increased risks suggesting that residual confounding or mediation by adiposity might account for some of these remaining associations. Higher unprocessed red meat and poultry meat consumption was associated with lower IDA risk.