January 19, 2020

WHO classifies processed meats as carcinogenic

This week a group of researchers in the World Health Organization (WHO) released a study that caused a bit of a kerfuffle. The group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), published ” target=”_blank”>American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of colorectal cancer is 4.84%. An 18% increase in that risk would yield a 5.71% risk. Some quick arithmetic yields the conclusion that for every 115 people that switch from consuming no processed meats to eating a hot dog every single day, one additional case of colorectal cancer would result. That’s a lot of hot dogs. A person eating a hot dog daily will consume tens of thousands of hot dogs. 115 of such people will consume millions of hot dogs. So it takes over a hundred people consuming millions of hot dogs to yield one additional case of colorectal cancer. That’s not nothing, but it’s a very small risk. Numerically, it’s much much smaller than the cancer risk from smoking.

If you have health concerns that guide what you should be eating, then the cancer risk from processed meat should be the last thing on your mind. If you have diabetes, you should minimize the amount of carbohydrates you eat. The risk from poor sugar control from eating the hot dog bun would be much higher than the cancer risk from eating the hot dog. So eat the hot dog, and forget the bun.

So, like much else in life, processed meats come with a small health risk. A serving of it once or twice a week is likely to increase your risk by so little, that it doesn’t deserve your attention. If you want to do something meaningful to minimize your health risks, buckle your seatbelts, stop smoking, and have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked occasionally.

Learn more:

” target=”_blank”>Bacon Causes Cancer? Sort of. Not Really. Ish. (Wired)
” target=”_blank”>Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat (The Lancet Oncology, free registration required)