Following up on an article released recently on The Planbase Patriot. It’s ok to eat processed meats now? That’s just not true
There was an article released this morning, October 10th, 2019-from The Atlantic, that I would like to share.
This article is rather lengthy, but worth it. This was a hot topic last week, it had most scientists and nutritionists all fired up. This is worth the time if the topic is of interest to you.
This was written by, James Hamblin.
Last week, as Americans grappled with the prospect of presidential impeachment and the national capacity for surprise seemed fatally depleted, news came out that shook people to their core. It was about meat.
Despite this advice, Americans do not eat meat in moderation, and never have. Since the 1960s, the per-capita intake has doubled. The average man eats more than his own weight in meat every year (even as that weight has increased by 30 pounds since 1960). Americans eat meat in quantities that are double the global average.
The new guidelines were released in Annals of Internal Medicine, a prestigious medical journal published by the American College of Physicians. Robert McLean, the ACP’s president and a rheumatologist at Yale, told me that they were the result of an editorial decision by the journal, not the ACP, but he nevertheless defended the analyses. “They did not say that eating red meat is safe,” he said. “They said that the data suggesting it’s as harmful as we once thought is inconclusive. They’re not saying to go out and eat all the red meat you want.”
Indeed, the guidelines are not
telling people to eat all the meat they can. But the explicit recommendation that adults “continue their current levels of meat consumption” seems detached from any concept of what current levels of meat consumption are, or what they mean for human health. Around the world, global meat production has grown by five times since the 1960s. In the early 1980s, the average Chinese person ate 30 pounds of meat a year. Today that number is nearly 140 pounds, in a country that has grown to more than 1 billion people. Globally, meat consumption is projected to increase by 75percent over the next three decades.
The health effects of this consumption are significant, and on track to become much more so. Yet the guidelines ignore the most important way in which food affects our bodies, minds, communities, and so much else that constitutes health.
The day before the news reports came out, on a Sunday morning, I got a frenetic call from the physician and researcher David Katz. A fellow in the ACP, he was mobilizing his colleagues internally and throughout the nutrition world in preparation for the publication of the guidelines.
Annals of Internal Medicine was, in fact, about to devote the better part of an entire issue to the consequences of eating meat. Six articles were being published by the same group of authors from NutriRECS. This is uncommon. Getting even a single study published in the journal is considered a high achievement. And the findings of the studies were, overall, predictable: High intake of meat and processed meat was associated with an elevated risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancers—though the authors said they had “low certainty” in their own findings.
Contributing further to this sense, on Friday, The New York Times reported that Bradley Johnston, the lead author of the guidelines and a co-founder of NutriRECS, had failed to disclose his past financial ties to the food industry. In December 2016, Johnston published a review in Annals of Internal Medicine in which he said that recommendations to cut down on sugar were based on weak evidence. It relied on the same GRADE technique, and was funded by the food industry. Johnstson told the Times that his relationship with the industry ended in 2015, once he had received the funding; he has not responded to my request for comment. The editor of Annals of Internal Medicine defended Johnston by saying that conflicts are common, telling the Times that they appear on “both sides of this debate.”
Conflicts are indeed pervasive in nutrition research. They don’t necessarily invalidate data, but they still raise eyebrows when it comes to subjective analyses such as these, especially when the takeaways go against abundant evidence.
Outside of these circles, the gist of most medical advice regarding meat has been that a moderate amount of meat is not necessarily that bad for you. Although it is, some experts then add, bad for the planet. Doctors with an especially environmentally conscious bent might add that a third of the land on Earth is used to raise livestock, and that these animals are a major cause of water pollution, soil loss, and deforestation.
The crucial determinant of health is lost in this dichotomy: Environmental harms are themselves harms to human health. Annals of Internal Medicine’s new research and guidelines explicitly excluded any consideration of how meat production affects health. The idea that the effects of food are limited to nutrients was passable as scientific theory a century ago, but to ignore all this new information about how food affects our bodies is no longer an intellectually honest premise.
Animal agriculture is water-intensive and space-inefficient, and over the next three decades, the amount of land required to support livestock will quickly increase as the habitable land for humans narrows. With fewer trees, pollution and greenhouse gases linger. Inhaling pollution already kills more than 7 million people every year, mostly by way of cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease. Currently, there are 70 billion livestock animals, and the ruminants with four stomachs are extremely inefficient converters of plants into meat. The industry generates the spectrum of major greenhouse gases. It is the primary (and growing) source of methane and nitrous-oxide gases with more intense warming impact than carbon dioxide.
Despite these grim warnings, the separation of “health” and “sustainability” persists today in much of the medical world. Researchers are often furthering a dichotomy that is imposed by the cattle industry and, subsequently, by the U.S. government.
The most overt example might be the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are written every five years by the Department of Agriculture in conjunction with a panel of academic nutrition scientists. These determine what goes into school lunches and what’s included in public-benefit programs. The most recent guidelines were written in 2015, at which point the nutrition researchers concluded that a plant-based diet was crucial to the continued existence of our species. But various Republican legislators insisted that the agencies leave this out. Then–Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and then–Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell ultimately blocked the guidelines from including mention of sustainability.
Harvard’s Hu, who served on the 2015 committee, has argued that his expert panel was silenced as a result of political pressure from the meat industry. “That was a missed opportunity, because our diet has an important influence on the environment and vice versa,” he told me at the time, noting that other countries had already included this in their national guidelines. His colleague Walter Willett, a Harvard professor of epidemiology and nutrition, condemned the decision as “censorship on a grand scale, again demonstrating the power of the meat industry.”
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a lobbying group for U.S. beef producers, did not respond to a request for comment. The meat industry and other agricultural interests continue to emphasize a distinction between the health effects of food production and consumption. They sell beef by focusing on the benefits of protein and iron, and encourage public debate on topics such as the health effects of saturated fat. Lobbyists push for an emphasis on nutrients alone. As Hu noted, most nutrition studies abide by this framework. News coverage then does the same: Is fat good or bad for you?
This is why the multidisciplinary work of bringing together all relevant factors for health is reserved for dietary guidelines. To write such guidelines and totally omit the most pressing human-health issue of our time—under the pretense that food is only about nutrition and enjoyment—is like recommending modes of transportation based only on passenger comfort and how much joy people get from driving their own SUV.
Yet in writing the forthcoming 2020 Dietary Guidelines, health researchers now have been strictly forbidden from factoring in the environmental impact of food. The involvement of the Department of Agriculture in issuing health guidelines has always opened such recommendations up to being conflicted, but excluding the health impacts of climate change now makes any guidelines meaningless. The duality is simply obsolete; what is bad for the planet is bad for you. In a world where nutrition science can seem plagued by methodological disputes, varying interpretations of data, and conflicts of interest, this is a fact that anyone who studies food and health can no longer disagree with. Moderation will no longer suffice.
image by directingrights.com