WHO says a diet high in processed meats means an increased cancer risk

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that bacon, ham and sausages cause cancer, ranking alongside cigarettes, alcohol, arsenic and asbestos.
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) produced a report which said there was enough evidence for processed meats to be classed as group 1 carcinogens, due to a causal link with bowel cancer.
Processed meat is when the taste or shelf life has been changed as a result of modifying the meat, such as adding salt or preservatives. Although placed in the same category as cigarettes, it doesn’t mean bacon is as bad as smoking. The WHO did stress meat had health benefits.
Red meat was placed in group 2A, meaning red meats are “probably carcinogenic to humans”, due to the link between red meat consumption and prostate and pancreatic cancer, according to the IARC, although there was limited evidence.
The report says that for every 50g of processed meat (equivalent to less than two slices of bacon) consumed each day, the chance of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer by 18 per cent.
Dr Kurt Straif, from the WHO, said: “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”
Although the WHO’s announcement was welcomed by cancer researchers, the industry responded angrily, with the scientists that the industry funds rejecting comparisons between meat and cigarettes.
Although cancer scientists have concerns about the risks of consuming too much meat, nutritionists maintain their stance that meat has other benefits, and its risk of cancer is relatively small.
“A much bigger risk factor is obesity and lack of exercise. Overall, I feel that eating meat once a day combined with plenty of fruit, vegetables and cereal fibre, plus exercise and weight control, will allow for a low risk of colorectal cancer and a more balanced diet.”
Cancer Research UK said that the occasional bacon sandwich would cause little harm, and the findings are a reason to reduce your intake of red and processed meats, rather than give them up.
Estimates suggest that 34,000 deaths from cancer each year may be due to diets high in processed meat. One million were attributed to smoking, and 600,000 to alcohol.

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