WHO advises moderated meat consumption to reduce cancer risk

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Bacon is fried up in a pan in a kitchen in this photo illustration in Golden, Colorado, October 26, 2015. Eating processed meat can lead to bowel cancer in humans while red meat is a likely cause of the disease, World Health Organization (WHO) experts said on Monday in findings that could sharpen debate over the merits of a meat-based diet. The France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO, put processed meat such as hot dogs and ham in its group 1 list, which already includes tobacco, asbestos and diesel fumes, for which there is "sufficient evidence" of cancer links. Reuters/Rick Wilking

After numerous questions and concerns were raised about the links between red meat and cancer, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has now issued a clarification.

“The latest IARC review does not ask people to stop eating processed meats but indicates that reducing consumption of these products can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer,” said the WHO in a press release.

A group of researchers who met at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), presented their findings on the carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat on Oct 26. The report observed that eating a single 8 oz (226 g) steak a day equals “high” consumption – considerably increasing the risk of bowel cancer. The report also found that eating 50g of processed meat a day, less than approximately two bacon slices, increases the likelihood of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

The WHO processed meat report had caused furore among meat eaters. To put doubts to rest, the WHO released a set of Q&As that addressed some basic questions related to the IARC Monographs report.

“This evaluation by IARC reinforces a 2002 recommendation from WHO that people who eat meat should moderate the consumption of processed meat to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer,” said the WHO website, responding to a question on dietary recommendations to reduce cancer risk.

Other dietary guidelines that focus primarily on reducing sodium and fat intake have also recommended a reduction in processed and red meat consumption. These dietary recommendations were made in view of reducing obesity and cardiovascular disease risk. Until further guidelines related to cancer are developed, the WHO recommended reducing processed meat and red meat consumption for individuals concerned about cancer.

The IARC is the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The findings were classified by a Working Group of 22 experts, called together by the IARC Monographs Programme. The WHO processed meat report established correlations between red meat and primarily colorectal cancer, commonly referred to as bowel cancer. However, associations were also observed for prostate and pancreatic cancer.

“These results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat,” said Christopher Wild, director of the IARC, in a WHO press release.

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