The World Health Organization now says “Processed meats cause cancer” – Facebook statuses erupt and millions of pieces of Bacon Merchandise are instantly tossed in the trash. Tragedy.
But we’ve all heard this before, right? It seems like everything causes cancer. So my inbox fills up with friends and family asking if this latest bit of paranoia is legitimate. Here’s my quick take:
[TL;DR: I’ll be eating a bit less processed meats than I would otherwise, but am not majorly concerned]
- These findings are correlational, not causal. They tell us that the type of person who eats a lot of processed meat is more likely to develop colorectal cancer than the type of person who doesn’t. It may be the case that the processed meat type of person also has many other bad habits. This leads to #2
- Causes of disease and health when it comes to food are primarily MULTIFACTORIAL – rant linked here. One food is generally never evil enough to be a sole perpetrator.
- While the WHO found increased chances of developing cancer, the absolute increase in incidence is not that high because your chances of developing cancer weren’t that high in the first place.
- If eliminating bacon entirely from your diet causes you do binge somewhere else, that’s a worse outcome. You should choose flexible diets, not restrictive ones.
So in the end, we’ve got another case of media hype. It’s hard to solely blame the media – The Atlantic thinks it’s the WHO’s fault as well. Regardless, I’ll be over here enjoying my bacon [in moderation].