retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times reports on a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and conducted by "an international collaboration of researchers," suggesting that concerns about the consumption of red meat and processed meat may be much ado about nothing.

That's right. After years of being told to cut back on red meat consumption "because of concerns that these foods are linked to heart disease, cancer and other ills," the public now is being told that "the advantages are so faint that they can be discerned only when looking at large populations … and are not sufficient to tell individuals to change their meat-eating habits."

According to the story, "The new reports are based on three years of work by a group of 14 researchers in seven countries … The investigators reported no conflicts of interest and did the studies without outside funding … The new analyses are among the largest such evaluations ever attempted and may influence future dietary recommendations. In many ways, they raise uncomfortable questions about dietary advice and nutritional research, and what sort of standards these studies should be held to."

"Uncomfortable questions" may be an understatement.

The Times reports that the new conclusions "have been met with fierce criticism by public health researchers. The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and other groups have savaged the findings and the journal that published them.

"Some called for the journal’s editors to delay publication altogether. In a statement, scientists at Harvard warned that the conclusions 'harm the credibility of nutrition science and erode public trust in scientific research'."

And, the red meat debate is only partially about nutrition: "The prospect of a renewed appetite for red meat also runs counter to two other important trends: a growing awareness of the environmental degradation caused by livestock production, and longstanding concern about the welfare of animals employed in industrial farming … Questions of personal health do not even begin to address the environmental degradation caused worldwide by intensive meat production. Meat and dairy are big contributors to climate change, with livestock production accounting for about 14.5 percent of the greenhouse gases that humans emit worldwide each year."
KC's View:
While I'm sure some consumers may be alternately confused and delighted by this new study, in some ways researchers seem equally perplexed … not so much by the data, but by the diametrically opposed conclusions.

As best I can understand it all - and you can add nutritional research and data analysis to the long list of subjects about which I am far less than expert - much of this comes down to the difference between statistical research and observational research; the latter is easier to do than the former, but may be less scientifically conclusive.

In the end, consumers will make the best decisions they can based on the available and understandable data, or they'll make the decisions they want to make, not because of data but because they are the decisions they want to make. (Or they'll choose only to pay attention to the data that supports their own biases.)

I know what I'm going to do. Occasionally eat steak or hamburgers or pork or chicken, eat seafood several times a week, and try to eat more fresh produce whenever I can. It just seems sensible, and I feel better when I eat that way. Plus wine, of course. Add in jogging 20 miles a week (four miles, five times a week), and maybe I'll live a long time. And maybe I'll get hit by a bus, but I'll have done what I can to be both happy and healthy.