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Is consuming processed meat as harmful as smoking?

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Answer: Not quite, but consuming large quantities of processed meat is still very harmful.

Numerous reputable publications including new organizations, non-profits and international organizations have confirmed the regularly consuming processed meats is almost as bad as being an avid smoker. There is much research linking elevated cancer risk with consuming large quantities of processed meats over an extended period of time. That being said, to rank processed meats on the same level of toxicity as smoking would be something of an exaggeration.

Origin and Prevalence

Although the unhealthiness of processed meats have long been discussed, the conversation surrounding them once again became relevant in 2015 when The World Health Organization issued a report saying "classifying processed meats as carcinogenic". This news blew up on social media, Facebook in particular. Many relayed the news accurately; however, many people seemed to be under the impression that consuming processed meats would have immediate health impacts and would be toxic when eaten in any quantity.

Issues and Analysis

Here is the good, processed meat doesn't directly cause cancer as being an avid smoker would. It would take eating processed meat everyday on a fulltime basis for the effects on your body to be as bad smoking everyday.

Here is the bad, processed meat, yes, is still processed meat and still isn't good for you on a full time basis. It can cause other sorts of illnesses that can affect other parts of the body. Obesity is an example of an illness that one can adopt from eating processed meat fulltime. I do enjoy a fast food burger once in awhile due to its convenience factor, but a balanced diet is what one needs for a healthy long life span life.

A statement from CNN that is supposed to be how processed meat leads to some sort of cancer describes two different things. One being what processed meat is and what classifies it as so, and two being what can can cause cancer inside the body. They imply that they both come together to create some sort of cancer within the body but they don't say it, nor do they compare it to being as harmful as smoking in any way.

Starting out, CNN Money states here "The World Health Organization said that eating processed meat such as sausages and ham causes cancer, while unprocessed red meat may also be carcinogenic. The WHO's (World Health Organization) cancer research unit now classifies processed meat as "carcinogenic to humans" based on evidence from hundreds of studies, and linked it specifically to colon, or colorectal, cancer. Meat that is salted, cured or smoked to enhance its flavor or preserve it is considered processed meat. Processed meat generally contains pork or beef, but may also contain poultry."

A report from the American Cancer Society outlined that simply eating 50 grams of processed meat each day the equivalent of two slices of ham can increase the risk of such cancer by 18%. Overall, the lifetime risk of someone developing colon cancer is 5%. To put the numbers into perspective, the increased risk from eating the amount of processed meat in the study would raise average lifetime risk to almost 6%. Many people who ID as scientist don't state but point out that, cancer may be caused by eating large quantities. They wish for you to have a balanced diet, and eat lean meat rather than processed.

Also in the same American Cancer Society article this statement in a paragraph "And it has classified red meat as a probable carcinogen, something that probably causes cancer.". The "probable" and "probably" doesn't sound very promising when you think about scientists discussing cancer.

The WHO (World Health Organization, October 2015) now classifies processed meat in the same category as smoking and asbestos, based on its certainty of a link with cancer, but stressed that did not mean they were equally dangerous. But meat industry groups say that the info is bias and unreliable.

"They tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome," said Betsy Booren, vice president of scientific affairs at the North American Meat Institute.

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Sources and Further Reading.

  • Arnarson, Atli. "Why Processed Meat Is Bad For You." Healthline, Healthline Media, 4 June 2017, www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-processed-meat-is-bad.
  • NHS Choices, NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/bowel-cancer/.
  • O'connor, Anahad. "So Will Processed Meat Give You Cancer?" The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Oct. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/sunday-review/so-will-processed-meat-give-you-cancer.html.
  • "Pictures: What You Should Know About Processed Meat." WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/food-recipes/ss/slideshow-processed-meats.
  • "Processed Meat and Cancer – What You Need to Know." Cancer Research UK - Science Blog, scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2015/10/26/processed-meat-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/.
  • "Q&A On the Carcinogenicity of the Consumption of Red Meat and Processed Meat." World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en.
  • "Red Meat and Cancer | How to Prevent Cancer | WCRF UK." World Cancer Research Fund UK, www.wcrf-uk.org/uk/preventing-cancer/cancer-prevention-recommendations/limit-red-meat-and-avoid-processed-meat.
  • "Red Meat, Processed Meat and Cancer." Cancer Council NSW, www.cancercouncil.com.au/1in3cancers/lifestyle-choices-and-cancer/red-meat-processed-meat-and-cancer/.
  • "Stomach Cancer | Gastric Cancer Facts and Information." American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org/cancer/stomach-cancer.html.
  • "What Is Processed Meat?" BBC News, BBC, 26 Oct. 2015, www.bbc.com/news/health-34620617.
  • "World Health Organization Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer." American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org/latest-news/world-health-organization-says-processed-meat-causes-cancer.html.
  • The World Health Organization said Monday that eating processed meat such as sausages, and Ham Causes Cancer. "Processed Meat Causes Cancer, Says WHO." CNNMoney, Cable News Network, money.cnn.com/2015/10/26/news/red-meat-processed-cancer-world-health-organization/index.html.


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