Eating red and white meat increases risk of cardiovascular disease

In a recent study published in the journal Food Science and Nutrition, researchers examine the association between total meat consumption, which includes both red and white meat, and the regional and global incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Study: Total meat (flesh) supply may be a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases worldwide. Imge Credit: Fascinadora / Shutterstock.com Study: Total meat (flesh) supply may be a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases worldwide. Imge Credit: Fascinadora / Shutterstock.com

Background

One of the major areas of focus in medical research is understanding the risk factors and developing strategies to treat cardiovascular disease, which encompasses various disorders of the blood vessels and heart and is a leading cause of mortality worldwide. While a comprehensive understanding of cardiovascular disease remains incomplete, previous studies have identified various lifestyle and behavioral risk factors that can be addressed to reduce the probability of cardiovascular disease.

The increased consumption of saturated fats can lead to elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is linked to plaque formation and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This correlation has led many medical professionals to recommend a reduced intake of red meat.

Although red meat is believed to have higher saturated fat content than white meat, there is a lack of information on the difference in the cholesterol content between white and red meat. Furthermore, contrasting results from some studies also indicate that a preferential consumption of white meat over red meat does not lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

About the study

In the present study, researchers used data published by the United Nations consisting of information on demography, health, and economic status for 217 countries. The Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database food balance sheet was used to obtain data on per capita total meat supply for 2017, which included red and white meat, including veal, beef, pig, buffalo, lamb, mutton, chicken, goat, duck, goose, turkey, rabbit, horse, game, and offal.

Data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation was used to obtain information on the incidence rates of cardiovascular disease. Variables associated with the incidence of cardiovascular disease, such as socioeconomic status, which is associated with education, life span, diabetes, and obesity, were extracted to account for confounding effects on the association between total meat consumption and cardiovascular disease. Other variables included urbanization and urban lifestyles, and obesity.

Since data on all variables were not available for all countries, each analysis could not be conducted for all 217 countries. The relationship between total meat consumption and the regional and global incidence of cardiovascular disease was examined through bivariate correlation analysis. Partial correlation analysis was used to determine whether the prediction of cardiovascular disease risk based on total meat consumption was independent of factors such as obesity, socioeconomic status, and urbanization.

Correlation coefficients for the association between total meat and cardiovascular disease incidence were compared between developing and developed countries. For each of the analyses, countries were grouped based on different criteria, including income classifications from the World Bank, developed and developing countries based on the U.N. classifications, the World Health Organization’s regional classifications, per capita gross domestic product (GDP), geographic distributions, and cultures.

Meat consumption predicts risk of cardiovascular disease

The association between the consumption of total meat and the incidence of cardiovascular disease was strong and significant in the bivariate correlation analyses. This association remained significant when obesity, socioeconomic status, and urbanization were incorporated into the partial correlation analysis. Additionally, the stepwise multiple regression analysis reported that after socioeconomic status, total meat was the strongest predictor of cardiovascular disease incidence.

The correlation between total meat consumed and the incidence of cardiovascular disease varied across different country groupings used for different analyses. Nevertheless, the consumption of flesh or total meat and the incidence of cardiovascular disease was correlated more strongly in developing countries as compared to developed countries.

Previous studies have consistently demonstrated that the consumption of red meat is higher in high-income countries as compared to low to middle-income countries. However, the association between increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and an unhealthy diet is also influenced by the high sugar and gluten content of their diets and low intake of vegetables and fruits. Cardiovascular disease pathogenesis in high-income countries is also linked to sedentary lifestyles.

Conclusions

The consumption of both red and white meat from various animal sources was significantly linked to an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, even after adjusting for confounding variables such as urbanization-related lifestyles, obesity, and socioeconomic status. After socioeconomic status, the consumption of red and white meat was the strongest predictor of cardiovascular disease risk.

Journal reference:
  • You, W., Feng, S., & Donnelly, F. (2023). Total meat (flesh) supply may be a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases worldwide. Food Science & Nutrition 11(6); 3203–3212. doi:10.1002/fsn3.3300
Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Written by

Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Chinta Sidharthan is a writer based in Bangalore, India. Her academic background is in evolutionary biology and genetics, and she has extensive experience in scientific research, teaching, science writing, and herpetology. Chinta holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the Indian Institute of Science and is passionate about science education, writing, animals, wildlife, and conservation. For her doctoral research, she explored the origins and diversification of blindsnakes in India, as a part of which she did extensive fieldwork in the jungles of southern India. She has received the Canadian Governor General’s bronze medal and Bangalore University gold medal for academic excellence and published her research in high-impact journals.

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