Intended for healthcare professionals


Red and processed meat, and human and planetary health

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 09 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2190
  1. John D Potter, professor of epidemiology
  1. Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
  1. J.D.Potter{at}

Contemporary meat consumption harms human health and is equally bad for the planet

Analyses from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-AARP study have previously shown that mortality was higher among participants with a high meat intake. With a total of more than 7.5 million person years of observation, further analyses by Etemadi and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.j1957) now show an association between high intakes of red and processed meat and elevated total mortality and mortality from most major causes: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and hepatic, renal, and respiratory diseases.1 They have explored the possible role of meat constituents and established that both haem iron (from red meat) and nitrate/nitrite (from processed meats) provide explanatory power and, perhaps, information on causation. The fact that poultry and fish intake are inversely related to risk and contain little of these agents adds plausibility to their causal interpretation.

The problem is, however, that red and processed meats are likely to be harmful to human health in many different ways, often linked to more than one outcome. Simply choosing one or two from a list …

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