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LETTER: Hold that burger

- 123RF Stock Photo
- 123RF Stock Photo

Re: “Red meat, science and buffets” (Oct. 5 column by Sylvain Charlebois).

Charlebois makes much of the Annals of Internal Medicine study which claims to have evidence that red and processed meats aren’t as unhealthy as most doctors are now saying.

There are, however, cogent criticisms of that study:

From a Sep. 30 Washington Post article, by Laura Reiley: “Another critic of the study, Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the Annals of Internal Medicine study also ignored solid science in the arena.

…. “Willett says the panel’s conclusions and recommendations do not reflect the study’s findings. Their meta-analyses of large cohorts showed that dietary patterns with a moderate reduction in red and processed meat consumption were associated with lower total mortality by 13 per cent. If a drug brought down the number of deaths to that degree, he says, it would be heralded as a success.”

.... “Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says one of the study’s chief flaws is its reliance on the Women’s Health Initiative study, a huge analysis of 48,000 women that had half the participants eating their regular diet and half eating a ‘low-fat diet,’ which in many cases led to a half-an-ounce difference in meat consumption per day in the two groups, about a fifth of a hamburger. No surprise, there wasn’t much difference in outcomes. Because of its size, the women’s study may have skewed the overall results of the Annals of Internal Medicine report.”

In other words, the study to which Mr. Charlebois refers did in fact show a 13 per cent reduction in mortality from a moderate reduction (note: not elimination) of red and processed meat in the regular diet. But the study doesn’t support the conclusion that even those eating, say, 15 servings a week of red meat (the U.S. average), or more, can safely carry on.

Neil Bell, Baddeck

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