This week, various news outlets advised us to say goodbye to our favorite meats as they would be likely to kill you. It was reported that eating a hamburger was as bad for you as smoking a cigarette. Furthermore, it was reported that merely two slices of bacon a day were as harmful to you as asbestos.
It is true that the World Health Organization reported that red meats did contain carcinogens. Also, it is true that the WHO categorized processed meats in the same category as tobacco. However, the media may have exaggerated the story just a bit.
In order to truly understand what’s going on, one must understand why the WHO would be studying red and processed meat in the first place. In 2014, studies suggested there was a probable link between these types of meats and cancer. While the risks are small, they could be important for public health because worldwide meat consumption is increasing in low- and middle-income countries.
Based on sufficient evidence, the WHO classified processed meat in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos. However, as they mention in a Q&A:
“IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.”
The bottom line, bacon is not as harmful to you as asbestos or tobacco smoking.
So maybe cutting back on eating so many Baconators in a week might help to reduce the risk of cancer a little. Granted, it’s not nearly as impactful as quitting tobacco. That means when The Register runs a headline like, “Bacon as deadly as cigarettes and asbestos,” it greatly misrepresents the WHO.
The fact of the matter is, the WHO’s primary role is to direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations’ system. In turn, they communicate their findings to try and help as many people as possible. Unfortunately, the media misinterpreted the message they were trying to convey and the focus got derailed.
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