Cut the booze before the beef: Health study

At the end of December 2012, an important health study was released and created a fair bit of buzz in nutrition circles. The study, “The Global Burden of Disease Study (2010),” published in the medical journal Lancet, was an examination of a variety of factors with the goal of estimating each one’s relative contribution to disease and disability. It is the largest systematic study ever compiled to look at this.

When health studies are published that involve beef in some way, this is an opportunity for Canada Beef to weigh in and influence how the study gets communicated. In the case of positive beef stories, this is an opportunity to disseminate the key results, and in the case of negative beef stories, Canada Beef has a responsibility to provide another viewpoint and, where appropriate, a defence.

The “The Global Burden of Disease Study (2010)” found that the three leading risk factors for global disease burden were high blood pressure, tobacco smoke and alcohol use. The study identified diets low in fruits and high in sodium as the most prominent dietary risk factors for disease.

In case you are curious, here’s what made the top 20:

1. High blood pressure

2. Smoking

3. Alcohol use

4. Household air pollution

5. Low fruit consumption

6. High body mass index

7. High fasting blood glucose

8. Childhood underweight

9. Ambient pollution

10. Physical inactivity

11. High sodium intake

12. Low nuts and seeds intake

13. Iron deficiency

14. Suboptimal breastfeeding

15. High total blood cholesterol

16. Low whole grains intake

17. Low vegetable intake

18. Low omega-3 intake

19. Drug use

20. Occupational injury

As you will notice, red meat is not on the list. The researchers evaluated red meat; it actually ranked dead last in the list of the 43 factors they examined.

This study is important as the findings provide us with the opportunity to position beef in a broader context with respect to risk factors for disease. When health professionals have facts, there can be appropriate prioritization of health efforts and messaging. For example, this study shows that low-fruit and high-sodium intakes are leading dietary factors contributing to disease globally.

It so happens that Canadians’ intake of fruit and vegetables is largely inadequate, and sodium intakes are too high. Clearly then, these are priorities. In contrast, Canadians consume a moderate amount of red meat (74 g/day on average), in line with Canada’s Food Guide. Thus, our messaging to health professionals is to remind them that efforts to increase vegetable and fruit intake and reduce sodium intake are likely to be beneficial, whereas advice to limit red meat, such as beef, is likely to prove ineffective.

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