Watch out Paleo and low carb diet devotees—you might look good, but according to the World Health Organization, you’re going to die of cancer, like yesterday.

According to story in The Washington Post:

A research division of the World Health Organization announced on Monday that bacon, sausage and other processed meats cause cancer, and that red meat probably does, too.

The report by the influential group stakes out one of the most aggressive stances against meat yet taken by a major health organization, and it is expected to face stiff criticism in the United States.

Look, this stuff has been haunting the halls of the temples to diet and health for years. Led primarily by animal rights and anti-meat groups, the theory that there’s a connection between cancer and the consumption of processed meat is nothing new.

So, let’s break it down. Is there any truth to this latest alarmist claim?

Well, the studies do not…DO NOT, show causation. Causation means there is a link between a certain habit and a disease. That has not been found with this WHO study. Instead, the researchers say there's an “association” or “correlation” between meat consumption and cancer.

Knowing that the WHO study found an association is important because it’s easy to find associations and correlations between certain behaviors and diseases. And that’s the point. These studies are often limited because we simply don’t know all the habits of the people in the study—habits that might have more to do with the person developing cancer.

Consider a 2013 study that came to the same conclusions. In that study, researchers, writing in the journal BMC Medicine, said the method of preserving meat (think luncheon meat, sausages) “may” damage health. Yet, according to this same study, "…people who ate a lot of processed meat were also more likely to smoke, be obese and have other behaviors known to damage health."

Okay, super. So, really the study concluded that if you're unhealthy, you'll die. Great. Got it. News to me!

Of course, media reports at the time said the researchers accounted for those risk factors but found that processed meat still damaged health. So, how much of this processed meat does one need to ingest for it to damage health?

…those eating more than 160g of processed meat a day – roughly two sausages and a slice of bacon – were 44% more likely to die over a typical follow-up time of 12.7 years than those eating about 20g.

Uh huh…so, eating sausage and (and, not or) bacon every day of your life might cause you to die earlier than those who didn't indulge in a bacon and sausage filled breakfast?


Yet again, we have a scientific study that purports to prove things that most people consider common sense. If you eat bacon and sausage every day, if you are obese, if you smoke, or practice other behaviors "known to damage health"…you'll DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and die earlier than the kale and quinoa eaters.

So, I guess the lesson with this latest study is one should enjoy that occasional baloney sandwich or bacon and eggs, but perhaps don’t make those items the backbone of your diet.

UPDATE: Just read this excellent piece explaining relative risk of eating that baloney sandwich. Check it out for some calming perspective.