A new study by the Annals of Internal Medicine is making headlines among public health officials for challenging dietary guidelines that Americans have grown accustomed to. Its findings counter the widely published claims that consumption of red meat is linked to cancer and heart disease with the study concluding that those claims are not backed by strong scientific evidence.
The study done by a top internal medicine journal published by the American College of Physicians found that health benefits of eating less red meat are small and can only be seen in large groups surveyed and not in the individual. The group of scientists that contributed to the work of the study say that looking at groups of people is a weak form of evidence and individuals will not be able to make informed decisions about what their consumption of red meat will lead to down the road.
Senior business administration and global supply chain management major Michael Davis says that four out of the seven days of the week, meat appears in his diet. He regularly eats bacon, egg and cheese and sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches for breakfast and dines once a week at Texas Roadhouse for his personal favorite dish, steak tips. Davis said that he has thought about the health implications of his consumption but doesn’t think he could switch to a popular vegan or vegetarian diet. “I can’t do it for the whole year unless there is a protein substitute like the Impossible Burger,” he said.
The New York Times reported that one of the studies analyzed for the AIM study, “asked why people like red meat, and whether they were interested in eating less to improve their health.” Conclusions found for this were weak with researchers concluding “omnivores are attached to meat and are unwilling to change this behavior when faced with potentially undesirable health effects.”
Senior environmental planning and management major Dyllon Edwards says red meat is a frequent component of his diet but he doesn’t seem convinced by the Impossible Burger and meat alternatives. “They’ve been feeding us impossible meat for the last 20 years,” he said and remarked that genetically modified organisms are becoming a part of common foods more and more.
Gina Kolata writes for the New York Times, “The prospect of a renewed appetite for red meat also runs counter to two other important trends: a growing awareness of the environmental degradation caused by livestock production, and longstanding concern about the welfare of animals employed in industrial farming.”
Vegan activists are petitioning more for plant-based diets with claims that the consumption of animals is speeding up climate change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reported that animal agriculture is globally the largest source of methane emissions and methane is more than 25 times as effective as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere.
Edwards disagrees. “I don’t think that our meat consumption is what messes up the environment,” he said. “I think there are other components of the agricultural systems that are more detrimental than meat consumption.”
The findings of the study have been met with criticism by the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society as well as other public health institutions for what they call “conclusions that harm the credibility of nutrition science and erode public trust in scientific research.”
Guidelines on the American Heart Association website recommend meat substitutes like beans, peas and tofu for entree dishes. The American Cancer Society reports diets that are rich in vegetables, poultry, fruit and fish can be linked to lower breast cancer rates in some studies. The study from AIM said the evidence from these guidelines was low to very low.
Despite these criticisms, the results have started a conversation about how dietary guidelines are established and what can best guide consumers in their food choices.