A ten-year study of over 500,000 middle-aged and elderly Americans shows that diets high in red and processed meat lead to more deaths, especially from cancer and heart disease, than do less meat-rich diets. Diets low in these meat products but high in poultry and fish were associated with a slight decrease in the likelihood of death from all causes. These results bolster other recent scientific arguments in favor of reduced meat consumption, based on its impact on human health and the environment.
The medical researchers reached their conclusions about mortality rates after statistically eliminating the effects of variables like smoking, weight, alcohol consumption and exercise levels. Although earlier studies have connected high meat consumption to increases in heart disease and several types of cancer, this one is the first to look at meat consumption and overall death rates. Its findings are also stronger because of the large size of its national sample.
Recent environmental research has shown that raising animals for meat creates more greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide than the transportation sector. It also compromises the environment through its large water consumption, air and water pollution, and contributions to deforestation and land degradation.
Compared to the effects of eating only local foods, eliminating one day per week's average meat and dairy consumption results in greater greenhouse-gas savings, because much more of meat's carbon footprint results from its production than transportation phase.
For more information on the research about meat and death rates, see
Daily Red Meat Raises Chances of Dying Early (Washington Post 3/24/09).
R Sinha, AJ Cross, BI Graubard et al (3/23/09) Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People. Archives of Internal Medicine, 169, 562-571 (subscription required).
For more information on meat production and climate change, see
BM Popkin (3/23/2009) Reducing Meat Consumption Has Multiple Benefits for the World's Health. Archives of Internal Medicine 169, 543-545
N Fiala (February 2009). How meat contributes to global warming. Scientific American.
CL Weber & HS Matthews(4/16/08). Food miles and the relative climate impact of food choices in the United States. Environmental Science and Technology, 42, 3508-3513.
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (November 2006). Livestock impacts on the environment. Magazine -with link to the complete report.