Cutting processed meat could prevent hundreds of thousands of diabetes cases, study finds

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Reducing the amount of processed meat we eat could have significant health benefits, according to a new study.

Researchers suggest that cutting down processed meat consumption by about one-third could prevent more than 350,000 cases of diabetes in the US over the next 10 years.

This reduction—equivalent to eating about 10 fewer slices of bacon each week—could also lead to tens of thousands fewer cases of heart disease and colorectal cancer.

The study was conducted by a team from the University of Edinburgh’s Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

They developed a simulation tool to estimate the health impacts of eating less processed meat and unprocessed red meat.

While many studies have shown a link between high processed meat consumption and chronic diseases, few have looked at how reducing meat intake could improve multiple health outcomes.

Some research also suggests that unprocessed red meat might increase the risk of chronic diseases, but the evidence is still not strong.

Using data from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) national health survey, the researchers created a simulated sample of the US adult population.

This “microsimulation” is the first to estimate the effects of reducing both processed and unprocessed red meat consumption on various health outcomes in the US.

The team estimated how changes in meat consumption would affect adults’ risk of diabetes, heart disease, colorectal cancer, and death. They looked at the overall population and also broke down the results by age, sex, household income, and ethnicity.

Their findings are striking. Cutting processed meat intake by 30% could lead to 92,500 fewer cases of heart disease and 53,300 fewer cases of colorectal cancer over a decade, in addition to preventing over 350,000 cases of diabetes. White males and those with an annual household income between $25,000 and $55,000 would see the greatest health benefits.

The researchers also looked at the impacts of reducing unprocessed red meat intake alone and cutting consumption of both types of meat. Reducing both by 30% could prevent over a million cases of diabetes, 382,400 cases of heart disease, and 84,400 cases of colorectal cancer.

Even cutting unprocessed red meat alone by 30%—about one less quarter-pound burger each week—could prevent more than 732,000 cases of diabetes, 291,500 cases of heart disease, and 32,200 cases of colorectal cancer.

The study notes that more disease cases were prevented by reducing unprocessed red meat because people generally eat more unprocessed red meat than processed meat. However, the researchers caution that more research is needed to understand the effects of unprocessed red meat on chronic disease risk.

Published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the study’s authors, including Professor Lindsay Jaacks from the University of Edinburgh, highlight the dual benefits of reducing meat consumption.

“Cutting meat consumption can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve health,” said Professor Jaacks. “This is a clear win-win for both people and the planet.”

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