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Harvard school chops up red meat study

A new study that suggests adults should continue their current red meat consumption has been met with condemnation, including from one of its authors.

A team of international researchers, led by Bradley Johnston, an associate professor of community health at Dalhousie University in Canada, said their recommendation to continue rather than reduce the consumption of red meat is based on “a very small and often trivial absolute risk reduction based on a realistic decrease of three servings of red or processed meat per week”.

“Our weak recommendation that people continue their current meat consumption highlights both the uncertainty associated with possible harmful effects and the very small magnitude of effect, even if the best estimates represent true causation, which we believe to be implausible,” they wrote.

But experts from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said the authors’ guidelines contradict the evidence generated from their own meta-analyses.

“Among the five published systematic reviews, three meta-analyses basically confirmed previous findings on red meat and negative health effects,” the Harvard team said via a statement.

The experts said this was a prime example where one must look beyond the headlines.

“The publication of these studies and the meat guidelines in a major medical journal is unfortunate because following the new guidelines may potentially harm individuals’ health, public health and planetary health.

“It may also harm the credibility of nutrition science and erode public trust in scientific research.”

Dr John Sievenpiper – a co-author on one of the meta-analyses and professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto – also took aim at the panel’s conclusions and recommendations.

Sievenpiper, as quoted by the Harvard school, said: "Unfortunately, the leadership of the paper chose to play up the low certainty of evidence by GRADE as opposed to the protective associations that directly support current recommendations to lower meat intake … Very few nutritional exposures are able to show associated benefits on the big three of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality, as well as type 2 diabetes.

"The signals would be even stronger if one considered substitution analyses with plant protein sources or investigated dose-response gradients which are used to upgrade data by GRADE, both of which I had requested.

"Unfortunately, I never saw the galley proofs to ensure that these changes had been made."


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One comment

  1. “Unfortunately, I never saw the galley proofs to ensure that these changes had been made.”

    This rings hollow. Directly from the Instructions for authors of the Annals of Internal Medicine:

    “All members of the group named as authors should meet criteria for authorship, including approval of the final manuscript, and they should be prepared to take public responsibility for the work.”

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