Meat consumption and mortality- public response to the results from the EPIC study

On 7th March, BMC Medicine published results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, on the association of red meat, processed meat, and poultry consumption with mortality.

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  1. The findings attracted a great deal of attention from the media and public, and the article in BMC Medicine was accessed over 33,000 times in just 4 days.

    This study, which was conducted in about half a million people from 10 European countries, aged between 35 and 70 years, and followed over an average of 12.7 years, reported a moderate association between processed meat consumption and risk of early death due increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer.  Importantly, this association was not related to consumption of poultry, and was inconclusive for red meat. In addition, the researchers noted that other health and lifestyle factors also play an important role in the prevalence of these risk factors.

    Based on their observations, the researchers also recommended that eating up to 20g of processed meat a day is safe - which is significantly lower than the 70g a day limit currently recommended by the UK government.

    The results of the study led to a huge response from the media and the public - including TV and radio news stations, such as BBC, Sky News, ITV and the Today programme on Radio 4.  The Guardian also ran a poll to gather public opinion on if this study had put people off eating processed meat. The voting resulted in 47% claiming they had been put off, while 53% said they were not affected.

    On twitter, popular questions asked by the public included: does this mean I have to give up bacon and sausages?, and what is processed meat anyway?

    The impressive public response highlights the relevance of medical research to public health, diet and behaviour. While many news stories focused on the dangers of processed meat, few extended their reports to explain that the researchers had also highlighted that unhealthy lifestyle choices overall were correlated to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer- and hence mortality. This is an important message - and publishing the full paper in open access journal such as BMC Medicine has ensured that the public (which of course includes bloggers and science journalists) could fully access the findings of the study themselves – and analyse the science behind the results.

    This storify is a collation of some of the main news stories and summaries, and also includes a selection of comments from twitter users.

    The full BMC Medicine article can be freely accessed here:  http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/11/63 

  2. A selection of what was being discussed at various news sites
  3. Which prompted some rather insightful summaries :
  4. And also prompted a poll by the Guardian asking the public if they have now been put off processed meat:
  5. The findings of the study has also led to a flurry of comments on Twitter. Here's a selection of just some of the tweets:
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