Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Red meat linked to spontaneous human combustion

I eat a decent amount of meat, and most of it is red. I've been asked by several people if this study will change my eating habits, and the answer is no, because I like to live on the edge...

The Los Angeles Times print headline reads “Eating beef, pork, or lamb in any amount increases the risk of premature death, according to the new Harvard study." Based on this and what I read in the study, I conclude that the premature death is because of the flames of spontaneous human combustion, or SHC.

From a theory purported on wikipedia: "The victim [of SHC] is an alcoholic and has been smoking while drinking or shortly after drinking a strong spirit. There are claims that this raises the blood alcohol level to a point where it ignites."

That sounds like a bad way to go, even after getting to eat all that red meat.

Lest you think I'm serious (you'd be surprised), the abstract of the study itself it paints a different picture than any one thing causing premature death. Take a look, and note that the italics are mine.
Background  Red meat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases. However, its relationship with mortality remains uncertain.
This part is even better...
Men and women with higher intake of red meat were less likely to be physically active and were more likely to be current smokers, to drink alcohol, and to have a higher body mass index. In addition, a higher red meat intake was associated with a higher intake of total energy but lower intakes of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Unprocessed and processed red meat consumption was moderately correlated. However, red meat consumption was less correlated with intakes of poultry and fish.

The study abstract "results" pretty much sums it all up, right there, so you don’t even have to think, and it does appear that most reporters did not think. However, that makes me wonder how they could have come up with these headlines and conclusions. Not only did they not think, but they also did not read. Are they lazy or is there an agenda? Both?

I'm not going to leave those people doing the study off the hook, either. In spite of the all the other correlations shown (and pointed out in their own words), they still pointed to red meat as the issue (rather than lifestyles that were sedentary and filled with smoking and drinking). Then, when speculating (yes, speculating) over the possible mechanisms, they started pointing to all sorts of out of date theories regarding dietary cholesterol and saturated fat. Are they also lazy or is there an agenda? Both?

My own take on red meat and health is that the typical person who eats a high level of meat also tends to do any number of things that lead to poor health, and the typical person who eats a high level of processed meats does even more things that lead to poor health, as the “study result” shows. As we see from the study, these people ate fewer fruits and vegetables, smoked more, and drank more. What else did they do? What did they eat in place of those missing fruits and veggies?

Earlier today I saw a funny cartoon depicting the problems with this type of study, but these type of studies are really meant to point to what to study next, not to draw real and actionable conclusions. The real problem with these studies is the people who report on them.

Here's the cartoon, which I found on the Obesity Prevention, Policy, and Management Facebook page.

So, I was asked if this would change my eating habits, and the answer is no – this study shows virtually nothing important, despite what the misleading headlines are telling you.

I now ask you, "will this change your news reading, listening, and viewing habits?"


  1. Here's the LA Times story, in case you need a laugh...,0,565423.story

  2. Before I forget, Newsy had a report that shows that those who actually did the study just don't get it. Personally, I think they are blinded by what they think the science says, and found the result that they think was shown. I give the scientists the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are poor scientists, and not doing something insidious.

    Around the blogosphere, everyone's abuzz about "what if they used grass fed meat." Yes, grass fed eaters would be healthier, on average, because they eat less bread, buns, junk food, and soda, just like "red meat" eaters are healthier than "processed meat" eaters. It's the other stuff, not the meat. Could processed meat be worse for us than plain red meat? Sure, but the study is just bad, and and arguing over grass vs grain fed is useless in a useless study.

    Where's the study that looked at seafood eaters vs filet o'fish, fish stick, and fish and chip eaters? Where are the roasted chicken vs chicken nuggets and spicy chicken sandwich stats?


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