Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Interpretive Nuance and Consumption Moderation

"There was what one might characterize as hysteria over this WHO [World Health Organization] thing."
"The way things were presented to the public [by the IARC -- International Agency for Research on Cancer], was that red meat causes cancer the way smoking causes cancer. And that was extremely misleading."
"The evidence against red meat is so much weaker that it could easily be explained by confounding [relating to other factors having an personal influence on health]."
"It is quite challenging to communicate risk."
Gordon Guyatt, clinical epidemiologist/health-policy analyst, McMaster  University

"Since Health Canada is likely to be the recipient of any letters or comments on this issue, AAFC [Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada] would need to reach out to Health Canada to contribute to any responses or to help shape any resulting policy changes."
Agriculture Canada staff memo
Hot Dog Nation
Since 2002, the American Cancer Society has recommended we limit our consumption of red and processed meat. (Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)
"The classification gives you an idea about the strength of evidence that it causes cancer but it doesn't give you any clue about how much you need to be exposed to have cancer, it's not a classification about the risk."
IARC spokeswoman VĂ©ronique Terrasse 

"[The IARC report] just further supports the importance of eating and consuming a  healthful diet."
"[Common sense urges cutting back on red and processed meat and] choosing healthier alternatives like poultry, fish, beans, and enriching your diet with other plant-based products."
Susan Gapstur, American Cancer Society, vice president of epidemiology
Dr. Guyatt is a stickler for scientific veracity. He is the scientist who first coined the phrase "evidence-based medicine". And this is an issue that the fairly recent declaration by the World Health Organization raised when it published its report on consumption of processed and red meats' effect on human health. That declaration actually builds on what has been known for a fairly long time by health professionals, that over-consumption of red meat and processed meats can lead to cancer onset.

Over-consumption of any kind of food can and generally does lead to ill health. Simply by over-eating we are placing strains on our body. The most obvious is that of weight gain, and the growing epidemic of overweight and obesity in all advanced societies globally, with convenience and pre-prepared foods available in abundance, along with peoples' propensity to eat well beyond satiation, has led to an increase in chronic and debilitating diseases like diabetes, heart, stroke and cancer.

The World Health Organization's report is nothing new, it's just that this notification is coming from an authoritative world body that makes headlines. Plainly speaking, too much red meat and too much consumption of processed meat should be avoided because of health concerns. But because of the source of the warning topping up that of international cancer society groups, the meat producing industry feels alarmed.

The WHO's warning was initiated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the WHO. Their October announcement, published in The Lancet Oncology set protectionist bells ringing in the meat-producing industry. Which then turned to Agriculture Canada to help ward off a potential consumer backlash resulting in a reduction in sales of their products. Canadian food producers are reliant on Agriculture Canada for marketing support.

And Agriculture Canada responded by charging the IARC of scare-mongering and issued a critique containing among other points, the following:
  • IARC's decision cannot be applied to people's health because it considers just one piece of the health puzzle; theoretical hazards. Risks and benefits must be considered together before telling people what to eat, drink, drive, breathe or where to work.
  • Over 900 published papers were considered but fewer than 50 were deemed of sufficient scientific validity to warrant consideration by the panel; a reason for concern.
  • Researchers were still being given evidence to review and analyze a few minutes before the meeting was adjourned.
  • Final decisions were based on majority, not consensus; one quarter of the experts involved voted against the IARC-approved position.
  • Placing processed meat into a group of items causing cancer doesn't prove it's a frequent cause.
It isn't exactly to their credit that Agriculture Canada takes the position of meat producers in their concern over such risks as "calls by anti-meat NGOs for warning labels on processed meat packaging", and fears of less use of processed meat in schools, hospitals and seniors' homes, when clearly, less use of those products would represent a nod at concern over good health, over convenience and support of products which, in over-consumption are inimical to good  health.

Why not simply be more responsible and concede that too great a reliance on red meat and processed meat in anyone's diet is not a recipe for good health? Why not emphasize the need for self-discipline and moderation as the key to good health? Should the IARC warning result in a slight alteration of the Canada Food Guide along with the next revision of American diet guidelines, that could only be positive.

Dr. Guyatt, by the way, knows his science and he also knows what leads to good health. He takes his own precautionary measures by eschewing meat altogether. We don't all have to do that, but it is incumbent on all of u s to be aware of what constitutes good, nutritious and healthful food. And to make an effort to only occasionally eat processed foods, and ensure that red meat doesn't accompany all our meals; variety, after all, is also a key to good health.

sausage meal
Worldwide, about 526,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 34,000 deaths from bowel cancer are attributable to a diet high in processed meat, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says. (CBC)

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