Study: Consumption of Processed Meat Linked to Higher Rates of Mortality, Cardiovascular Disease

April 9, 2021
Skylar Kenney, Assistant Editor

A new study has found an association between the consumption of processed meat and a higher risk of total mortality and major cardiovascular disease. The study did not find significant associations between the intake of unprocessed red meat or poultry with either of these conditions, in contrast to prior studies that linked red meat to higher risks of cardiovascular disease.

“Evidence of an association between meat intake and cardiovascular disease is inconsistent,” said Romania Iqbal, PhD, the first author of the study, in a press release. “We therefore wanted to better understand the associations between intakes of unprocessed red meat, poultry, and processed meat with major cardiovascular disease events and mortality.”

The researchers worked with data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study, a long-term study launched in 2003 by Salim Yusuf, OC, FRSC, director of the Population Health Research Institute, Canada, and principal investigator of the PURE study. This study has tracked dietary habits and health outcomes for more than 164,000 participants from 21 countries across 5 continents.

“The PURE study is the first multinational study that provides information on the association between unprocessed and processed meat intakes with health outcomes from low- and middle-income countries,” said Mahshid Dehghan, PhD, one of the study's authors and investigator at the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, in the release. “Moreover, the PURE study examines substantially more diverse populations and broad patterns of diet, enabling us to provide new evidence.”

Red meat is a major source of medium- and long-chain fatty acids, which may lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, previous studies linking red and processed meat with higher risks of cardiovascular disease come primarily from populations in North America and Europe, which limits their global applicability, according to the study authors.

It is not currently clear what participants with lower meat intakes were eating instead, and whether the quality of that food differed between countries, which could have implications for interpreting the associations between meat consumption and health outcomes, according to the study. The authors believe that additional research may enhance our current understanding of these associations, but that their findings indicate that limiting processed meat intake should be encouraged.

REFERENCE

Processed meat linked to higher risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease [news release]. March 31, 2021. Accessed April 8, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/asfn-pml032521.php