BIG THINK – Studies have been linking red meat consumption to health problems like heart disease, stroke, and cancer for years. But nestled in the recesses of those published papers are notable limitations.
Nearly all the research is observational, unable to tease out causation convincingly. Most are plagued by confounding variables. For example, perhaps meat eaters simply eat fewer vegetables, or tend to smoke more, or exercise less?
Moreover, many are based on self-reported consumption. The simple fact is that people can’t remember what they eat with any accuracy. And lastly, the reported effect sizes in these scientific papers are often small. Is a supposed 15% greater risk of cancer really worth worrying about?
Study slams lazy research
In a new, unprecedented effort, scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) scrutinized decades of research on red meat consumption and its links to various health outcomes, formulating a new rating system to communicate health risks in the process.
Their findings mostly dispel any concerns about eating red meat:
“We found weak evidence of association between unprocessed red meat consumption and colorectal cancer, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and ischemic heart disease.
“Moreover, we found no evidence of an association between unprocessed red meat and ischemic stroke or hemorrhagic stroke.”
The IHME scientists had been observing the shoddy nature of health science for decades.
Each year, hundreds of frankly lazy studies are published that simply attempt to find an observational link between some action — eating a food for example — and a health outcome, like death or disease.
In the end, owing to sloppy methods, varying subject populations, and inconsistent statistical measures, everything, especially different foods, seems to be both associated and not associated with cancer. How is the lay public supposed to interpret this mess? …