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New study suggests processed meats increase the risk of early death

07 March 2013

A study of half a million people across Europe has revealed that processed meats such as sausages, ham and bacon increase the risk of dying young.

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The research followed people from 10 European countries for nearly 13 years on average, concluding that diets high in processed meats were linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death.

It also showed that people who consumed a lot of processed meat were also more likely to smoke, be obese and demonstrate other behaviours known to damage health.

Prof Sabine Rohrmann, from the University of Zurich, told the BBC: “High meat consumption, especially processed meat, is associated with a less healthy lifestyle.

“But after adjusting for smoking, obesity and other confounders we think there is a risk of eating processed meat.”

Of those followed in the study, one in every 17 died. Those eating more than 160g of processed meat a day, which is equivalent to about two sausages and a slice of bacon, were 44% more likely to die over a typical follow-up time of 12.7 years than those eating around 20g.

Overall, nearly 10,000 people died from cancer and 5,500 from heart problems. According to Prof Rohrmann, 3% of the premature deaths could have been prevented if everyone in the study consumed no more than 20g of processed meat a day.

The UK government recommends eating no more than 70g of processed meat – two slices of bacon – a day. 

The researchers said that salt and chemicals used to preserve the meat could have an adverse effect on health. 

Dr Rachel Thompson, from the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “This research adds to the body of scientific evidence highlighting the health risks of eating processed meat.

“Our research, published in 2007 and subsequently confirmed in 2011, shows strong evidence that eating processed meat, such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, salami and some sausages, increases the risk of getting bowel cancer.”

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