Processed Meat and its Impact on Public Health in the United States

Processed Meat and its Impact on Public Health in the United States

Processed meats have long been a staple in American food culture, but recent evidence suggests that these beloved foods may be contributing to some of the nation’s leading health issues. While hotdogs and bacon bring joy to many, studies indicate that processed meats like sausage, salami, and bacon are linked to an increased risk of several diseases. From type 2 diabetes to cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer, processed meats are under scrutiny for their potential negative impact on public health.

A recent study estimates that the average American consumes around 29 grams of processed meat per day, with an additional 46.7 grams of unprocessed red meat. However, cutting back on processed meat intake by just 30 percent could have significant benefits. By reducing processed meat consumption by 61 grams (2.1 ounces) per week, the United States could prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and even lower the overall mortality rate by over 16,000 deaths.

While there is less conclusive evidence on the health impacts of unprocessed red meat, processed meat has been more clearly linked to negative health outcomes. Studies show that processed meat poses a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer. The sodium and saturated fat content in processed meats are believed to contribute to these increased risks, leading to recommendations to choose fresh, frozen, or canned meats over processed options.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified processed meat as “carcinogenic,” highlighting the potential link between these foods and cancer. Recent meta-analyses have found that consuming just 50 grams of processed meat per day can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. The American Heart Association advises limiting processed meat intake to about 100 grams per week, or roughly 14 grams per day, but new research suggests even stricter guidelines may be necessary to protect public health.

Despite the growing evidence of the health risks associated with processed meat consumption, the national intake of these foods in the U.S. has remained relatively stable over the past two decades. With nearly 12 percent of the population affected by diabetes and millions at risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer, reducing processed meat intake could offer significant public health benefits. As the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are set to be updated in 2025, including specific recommendations to lower processed meat consumption could have far-reaching implications for food policy, school nutrition programs, and overall public health initiatives. Taking steps to reduce processed meat intake could help millions of Americans lead healthier lives and reduce their risk of chronic diseases.

Science

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