Oh, FFS. ANY red meat is bad now?!
The perils of having among one’s peers a significant number of Arts graduates? The following crap was posted all over my facebook news feed today:
A new Harvard study suggests that eating any amount—and any kind of red meat, significantly increases the risk of premature death.
Well. Shut the door. It’s a HARVARD study. See you in the next life, McDonald’s. It was fun while it lasted, Sizzler’s. At least I got to try some kangaroo once.
Ninemsn diligently picked up on it, too (and if you check google around the time of posting, so did others).
Eating a portion of processed red meat daily can boost a person’s risk of dying young by up to 20 per cent, says a long-running US study of more than 120,000 people.
Woah! Not just Harvard but a whopping 120,000 people tested by Harvard.
I might as well go fire bomb the butcher’s shop right now. He’s not just killing Daisy, he’s killing ME!
But as I commented on FB, “Well, that’s your choice … but before flying in the face of millions of years of evolution as an omnivore species – a trait that played no small part in giving us dominion over the planet – it might be wise to first check any counter arguments to such an alarming claim.”
Wait. What? CHECK it? This is Harvard. It was in the media. Surely a ninemsn journo would try and bring us a balanced report, right? If there was any checking to be done, it would have been done already.
No, just more of the same… in the same article.
A separate study, also led by Hu but published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found that men who drank sugar-sweetened beverages daily faced a 20 per cent higher risk of heart disease than men who did not.
Just put a warning label on everything I say! That way we’ll be safe, saved from ourselves, and will live forever.
Wait. Where was I? Ah, yes. CHECKING.*
How did the researchers test the dangers of meat? Through a survey and questionnaire. This wasn’t some deep and complex lab work.
As for the ability to demonstrate a cause and effect relationship between red meat and mortality? Those claims are impossible. Always remember Research 101: Correlation does not equal causation.
A frickin’ survey? A frickin’ questionaire?
And on top of that, the test group were ALL doctors and nurses.
I agree with the assertion made in that last link. I love them, but they don’t always work the most convenient hours (exercise, sleep, access to quality food or crappy hospital food?) and thus might not have the healthiest bodies. And besides, doctors and nurses are hardly representative of the entire population.
And as for the drinks? Sigh, everybody knows downing too much Coke isn’t good, but again, was that survey done using extensive lab testing, scientific rigour?
Just another stupid survey.
*And note livestrong.com, the folks who checked the Harvard survey, are partners with the Lance Armstrong Foundation. If red meat’s good enough to help Lance win seven Tours de France, then it’s good enough for anyone.
Or what? My next steak is gonna…? You know…
Someone called Molly on FB, a FB acquaintance of my FB acquaintance, says it well.
I don’t claim to know the answer, but James B. is onto something with that last comment. If you look at the design of the study, it was observationally based and not an experiment. The participants were asked to report how often, on average, they consumed certain meat products over the course *of the previous year*. I can barely remember what I ate yesterday. Some questions were asked of participants every four years. They also changed/refined the categories of process/unprocessed meats over the course of the study and included ground beef as “unprocessed.” Anyone who’s read about the preponderance of Pink Slime in the last couple of weeks will wonder about that designation.
The self-reports revealed that the people who ate read meat were also a group who exercised less, smoked more, and drank more. Should we conclude that red meat makes you a lazy, smoking, alcoholic? Probably not. The conclusion is that it’s not clear whether the increased mortality rates were due to red meat or an overall unhealthy lifestyle.
And she was kind enough to link to another site, Mark’s Daily Apple, that takes a look at the Harvard study.
But if you’ve been hanging around the nutrition world for very long, you’ve probably realized by now that health according to the media and health according to reality are two very different things—and even scientific studies can be misrepresented by the researchers who conduct them. Is our latest “killer meat” scare a convincing reason to ditch red meat? Is it time to put a trigger lock on your lethal grass-fed beef when the young’uns are around? Or is there more to this story than meats the eye? (Sorry, I had to.)
Observations vs. Experiments
Before we even dig into what this study found, let’s address an important caveat that the media—and even the researchers, unless they were terribly misquoted—seem to be confused about. What we’ve got here is a garden-variety observational study, not an actual experiment where people change something specific they’re doing and thus make it possible to determine cause and effect.
That link goes into quite some detail.
Kinda related (not really) but inquiring minds still deserve to know: facebook at its best.