Finally some good news for the cows

March 28, 2012

A long-term study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and published recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that eating red meat of any type in any amount significantly increases the risk of premature death. While a subscription to the journal is required to access it online, one can read about the study in this article from the L.A. Times. The news article also links to the chart copied below, which presents the findings of this study in graphic form. As the chart shows, the study found that adding a small serving of red meat to one’s daily diet is associated with a 13% increased risk of premature death and adding any form of processed red meat is associated with a 20% increased risk of premature death. 

These results are very interesting and will surely help to transform attitudes and opinions concerning the consumption of red meat. Given (1) the costs to the animals who are consumed by humans (especially those raised in factory farms), (2) the costs to the environment due to typical animal husbandry practices, and now (3) the costs to human health due to the consumption of red meat, there really is no longer any room for debate (if there ever was) as to whether or not humans should eat red meat. Put differently, in order to justify the consumption of red meat at this point in time, one must believe that the mere experience of eating it (the fleeting sensation of flesh in one’s mouth) is more important than animal welfare, more important than environmental sustainability, and even more important than one’s own health and longevity. And only a fool can believe that.

For the rest of the human population, I expect to see a significant decline in the consumption of red meat and, interestingly, a greater recognition of the rights and welfare of those hoofed animals we have been slaughtering and consuming. For chickens and fish, on the other hand, the results of this study do not bode well. But future research in nutritional science may yet reveal that the consumption of even these animals is not in our interests.    

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On the other hand, it should be noted that the results of another study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition contradict the foregoing. This more recent study, entitled “Meat consumption and diet quality and mortality in NHANES III,” found that “neither red and processed meat, nor white meat consumption, were consistently associated with all-cause or cause-specific mortality.” More surprisingly, the study also found that  eating healthy diet according to the Healthy Eating Index was associated with a decreased total mortality only in men, not in women. The idea that a healthy diet has no effect whatsoever on women’s longevity is truly incredible and warrants further research, which it no doubt will receive. So too is there a need for further research to resolve the conflicting claims made concerning the health effects of a meat-based diet.   

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4 Responses to Finally some good news for the cows

  1. wk
    March 28, 2012 at 6:28 am

    If only significant empirical data, statistics and medical findings could actually change human behavior.
    Looking at Smoking and cigarettes, I highly doubt the impact this study will have (at least in the short term).

  2. jm
    March 28, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Medical findings and the spread of such information throughout society clearly do change human behavior. And smoking is a perfect example. Smoking rates have decreased steadily in the developed world over the last few decades; in the US they have decreased by over 50% since 1965, according to the American Lung Association. Important social changes do not happen overnight, but they do happen, and medical information can be principal cause of such changes.

  3. Watcher465
    April 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    What exactly is premature death? I am an animal lover though I do eat meat. That is because I was brought up with it though it does bother me.But that’s not the point.
    What exactly is premature death?

  4. jm
    April 6, 2012 at 12:45 am

    I believe the “premature death” for this study refers to people who died during the course of the study, which tracked a large group of people over several years. A significantly higher number of people who were eating meat passed away during the study than people who were not eating meat. There are also higher rates of CVD mortality and cancer mortality for the meat eating group. You can read the abstract here:

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