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Disease-Free Living Through Fitness and Nutrition
Eating meat more than 10 times a week almost doubles chances of bowel cancer
From the British Medical Journal 2002;324:1544 ( 29 June )
Melissa Sweet Sydney - A longstanding controversy about whether a diet rich in meat increases the risk of cancer has been fuelled by preliminary results from major studies in Europe and Australia.
The findings, suggesting that some meat lovers are at increased risk of bowel cancer, are not yet published and were presented in Sydney this week at the first Australasian conference on nutrition, physical activity, and cancer.
The conference also sparked concerns about ongoing efforts by vested interests to influence nutrition debate. An industry group, Meat and Livestock Australia, suggested British researcher Professor Michael Hill as a keynote speaker, and offered to pay his travel expenses. Professor Hill, chairman of the European Cancer Prevention Organisation, argues that the evidence linking red meat to bowel cancer is inconclusive. Conference organisers declined the offer, wanting to avoid perceptions of conflict of interest.
"There’s so many nutrition groups with close links with industry bodies that the cynicism about messages about nutrition and health is growing," said Mr Terry Slevin, spokesman for Cancer Council Australia (the country's national non-government cancer control organisation, with eight state and territory cancer organisations).
Asked about his trip’s funding, Professor Hill, who is addressing several meetings in Australia, said: "I am a scientist, not a journalist, and so I do not have the huge salary that you people enjoy to fund such trips from my own pocket." Kellogg's has previously funded his travel to Australia.
The conference was told that a prospective study of 522 000 people in 10 European countries found a "modest" association between cancers of the bowel and stomach and a daily intake of more than 60 g of processed meat.
The principal investigator, Professor Elio Riboli, chief of nutrition and cancer research at the World Health Organization's International Agency for Cancer Research, said that people who ate more than 25 g of fibre a day were 40% less likely to develop bowel cancer than those eating less than 10 g a day. Those who ate more than 250 g of fruit and vegetables daily had a modest reduction in digestive tract cancers.
Meanwhile, the first findings from a prospective study of 38 917 people in Melbourne show that those who ate red meat or pork, or both, more than 10 times a week were 1.8 times more likely to develop bowel cancer during the first 10 years of follow up. Those who ate processed meat more than five times a week were 1.5 times more likely to develop bowel cancer than those eating it no more than once a week.
The study’s principal investigator, Associate Professor Dallas English, an epidemiologist at Cancer Council Victoria, said: "My feeling is that people who consume a lot of meat, particularly processed meat, could reduce their bowel cancer risk by eating less meat." Some of Australia’s most prominent nutritionists were recently involved in an unusually bitter public spat over red meat. On one side was an expert panel funded by Sanitarium Health Food, a company with a vegetarian philosophy, and on the other were experts on a committee convened from the meat industry.
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