Is Red Meat No Longer a Dietary Problem?
Recent headlines and television news commentary have focused on a new study which reported that eating red meat may not be the cause of health problems. Because of their historic support of a vegetarian diet and considerable scientific and educational effort against eating red meat, this has raised questions among Adventists.
Dr. Gary Fraser, a faculty member and diet research expert at Loma Linda University (LLU) reviewed for Adventist Today the problems with this research which make its conclusions questionable. Fraser had a key role in the largest studies comparing vegetarians and non-vegetarians that have been done, and these were funded by the National Institutes of Health in the United States. He is a professor in the School of Public Health at LLU and professor of preventive medicine in the School of Medicine.
His Complete Statement
“The conclusions reached by the recent articles in the latest issue of Annals of Internal Medicine reveal some misunderstandings of the nature of nutritional data. The randomized trial method is poorly suited to this type of research due to the inability to reliably maintain large differences in meat consumption over the long periods of time necessary to develop many chronic diseases. As stated in one of these articles, many (but by no means all) omnivores are resistant to changing their dietary habits. Yet, this should never be an impediment to making the best recommendations. Smokers do not easily give up cigarettes. Tobacco companies could testify to the effectiveness of health professionals continuing that battle.
“Further, we do not believe that meta-analyses of dietary items, such as red meats, provide high-quality evidence. Questionnaire measures of consumption of these items are always approximations. It is not controversial that the inevitable errors in these data change the results in important ways, typically minimizing estimated differences. These problems can be lessened by using certain statistical techniques (not employed here) or by the study of single populations with a wide range of meat consumption. Rather, meta-analyses including many studies undoubtedly markedly exaggerate the “error” problem by attempting to cobble together data from a wide variety of questionnaires. This undoubtedly downgrades any large true effect to an apparent small estimated effect. Large studies, such as these, do not overcome this problem. Strong conclusions based on such data are likely to be seriously flawed.
“Additionally, The New York Times asserted in a recent article that the scientists failed to disclose receiving funding from the cattle industry, further suggesting the research could be flawed or convoluted by a conflict of interest.
“Data from studies at Loma Linda University comparing the health experience of vegetarians and non-vegetarians are the largest studies of such persons presently available. Our most recent study involves more than 45,000 American vegetarians and a similar number of non-vegetarians. The results are unequivocal in that the vegetarians have fewer problems with high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. They have lower rates of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and of some common cancers.”
Adventist Today thanks the communication office at Loma Linda University Health for obtaining this statement for us.