|Simon's fantastic Italian meatloaf|
The results of two observational studies by the same group at the Harvard School of Public Health have made headlines, spurring claims that red meat increases mortality risk and sugar-sweetened drinks raise the risk of heart disease. While these observational studies cannot show causation, it’s clear that many in the public are interpreting the studies in exactly this way.
The first study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine and whose lead author was Dr. An Pan, analyzed dietary information from over 37,000 men and 83,000 women for up to 28 years. After controlling for a variety of lifestyle and diet factors, the researchers estimated that for every increase in red meat consumption of one serving per day, there was a 12 percent higher risk of all-cause mortality. Higher red meat consumption was also associated with a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
See, we're all going to die from eating steaks, burgers and (since I've pictured it) Simon's meatloaf! Or are we?
“Unfortunately,” explains ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross, “these studies are excellent examples of data dredging. The researchers have a huge pool of observational data, and they just plug in whatever factors they can think of to look for ‘statistically significant’ correlations. But these small differences of 10 to 20 percent don’t mean anything in a retrospective observational study.”
Dr. Ross adds, “The epidemiological results that these two studies come up with are nowhere near strong enough to support the conclusions that the authors — and especially the press — arrive at."
So we aren't going to die - well we are but eating red meat or not isn't really going to make much difference. It won't stop the nannying fussbuckets lecturing us about eating bacon though.