AICR Calls on US to Slash Red Meat

WASHINGTON, D.C., US – Experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) say Americans can’t afford to wait any longer to make a cancer-protective shift in their eating habits. The evidence linking red meat to colon cancer is now so strong it should prompt a nationwide reduction in red meat consumption, they said.
calendar icon 25 April 2008
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AICR sat that their new report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, concluded that the scientific evidence linking red meat to colorectal cancer is now convincing. Accordingly, the expert panel who authored the report issued a recommendation to limit consumption of red meat to no more than 18 ounces (cooked) per week and avoid processed meat.

Many Americans eat far greater amounts of red meat per week. Consider a person who often chooses eggs with two sausage links (2oz) for breakfast, or a quarter-pound fast food burger (4oz) at lunch, or a pork chop (6oz) or two for dinner. This person is likely to far exceed the recommended 18 ounces per week.

According to the research, if such a person eats lunch or dinner at restaurants several times a week, it becomes even more difficult to keep consumption in check. Today, many restaurants offer 9 to 12 ounce servings of steak or roast beef and often compete for business by inflating portion sizes even more.

Cancer experts are asking Americans to assess the amount of red meat they typically eat and substitute poultry or fish more often, or simply increase the amount of meatless meals they enjoy in a given week.

“The meat-and-potatoes mindset is slowly killing us,” said AICR Nutrition Advisor, Karen Collins, MS, RD. “We need to break ourselves of the notion that we need a hunk of red meat at every meal.”

Collins noted, however, that some Americans are just a few ounces over the recommended weekly amount. These individual can start eating for lower cancer risk simply by substituting a hearty vegetable chili and salad for a hamburger at lunchtime, or preparing poultry or fish instead of steak for dinner two nights a week.

Report: Risk Rises with Increased Consumption

According to the AICR report’s analysis of the collected evidence, every 3.5 ounces (100 g) of red meat eaten per day increases risk for colorectal cancer by 30 percent.

What is alarming about this increased risk, Collins said, is the real-world impact that 30 percent figure takes on once its effects are felt across the entire population of the world. “Smokers are a subset of people whose chosen habit places them at much higher risk for lung cancer, but this is different. Everybody eats,” she said. “And everybody who eats a diet high in red meat is at a higher risk of colon cancer, whether they know it or not.”

Given the huge number of people involved, the effect of red meat consumption on colon cancer incidence is immense, Collins said. “If there were a drug that was found to increase risk of a disease by 30 percent, it would get pulled off the shelves.”

AICR is not calling for the elimination of meat from US diets. Instead, the cancer experts are urging Americans to recognize that cutting back on how much red meat they eat every week is an important, cancer-protective step.

Awareness of Meat-Cancer Link Surges, But Will U.S. Diets Change?

Prior to release of the AICR expert report in November 2007, only 36 percent of Americans were aware that diets high in red meat are a cause of cancer, according to an AICR telephone survey of 1022 US adults. Upon its publication, the AICR expert report received a great deal of media and scientific attention. It was also the subject of aggressive statements from the meat industry seeking to discredit the recommendation, which raised the report’s public profile even further.

That furor seems to have had a lingering impact on public awareness. Five months after the November release of the report, AICR has resurveyed Americans on their awareness of the red meat-cancer link. According to this follow-up survey of 1,008 US adults, public awareness that red meat is a cause of cancer has jumped by 18 percentage points, to 54 percent.

According to government statistics, a gradual shift away from red meat has been underway in the U.S. for decades. The USDA’s Economic Research Service reports that the average American’s annual consumption of beef has decreased by nearly 14 pounds (224 ounces) since 1970.

That decrease was likely sparked by public education campaigns that focused on the fat content of red meat and the effect it has on health, such as increasing the risk of heart disease. Collins noted that although choosing lean cuts does play a protective role in heart health, diets high in red meat – no matter its fat content – increase risk for colorectal cancer.

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