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Meat and Weight Gain in the PANACEA Study

In one of the largest nutrition studies ever, total meat consumption was significantly associated with weight gain in men and women, and the link remained even after controlling for calories.

September 4, 2012 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Images thanks to: Fancy steve and Kici via Wikimedia Commons and Nikchick.


“Mainly because of its high energy density and fat content, meat consumption has been considered a determinant of weight gain.” Yeah, but we just looked at nuts, which are dense in calories and fat and they didn’t appear to contribute to weight gain at all. So let’s not presume. “Meat consumption and prospective weight change in participants of the EPIC-PANACEA study.” What is that? “”hundreds of thousands of men and women across 10 countries, with “”weight gain measured over a 5 year period.

What did they find? “”Total meat consumption was positively associated with weight gain in men and women, in normal-weight and overweight subjects, and in smokers and nonsmokers. “”Conclusion: Our results suggest that a decrease in meat consumption may improve weight management. And this was after adjusting for initial weight, physical activity, educational level, smoking status, total energy intake… Wait-a-second—what?! That's the kicker. The link between meat and weight gain remained even after controlling for calories.

One would assume that—sure, meat is associated with weight gain because it’s so packed with calories, and so you’d just get more calories in your daily diet compared to those eating vegetarian, and so more weight gain. But no—it's even more that that. This was after controlling for caloric intake, meaning if have two people eating the same amount of calories—the person eating meat will gain more weight. In fact they even calculated how much more.

An intake of 250 g meat/day--like a steak, would lead to an annual weight gain 422 g higher than the weight gain experienced with an same calorie diet with lower meat content. After 5 y, the weight gain would be about 5 pounds more. Same calories, yet 5 pounds more eating meat. And steak was nothing. “The strongest relation with annual weight change—weight gain--was observed for poultry.”

Let’s say you start out normal weight and eat a hamburger every day. This is how much extra weight beyond what’s already in the calories you’d put on every year. What if instead you had the same amount of calories of processed meat, say a ham sandwich, with three deli slices of ham on it. You’d gain this much extra, whereas, just about a half a chicken breast puts you up here, though the poultry effect was attenuated, evidently, if you remove people who were previously sick and who lied about their diet.“

”In conclusion, our results indicate that meat intake is positively associated with weight gain and this association persisted after adjustment for total energy intake and underlying dietary patterns. Our results are therefore in favor of the public health recommendation to decrease meat consumption for health improvement.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Kerry Skinner.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

What response was there from the meat industry? Find out in tomorrow's video-of-the-day Cattlemen’s Association Has Beef With EPIC Study. For more from the EPIC study see Meat & Multiple MyelomaThousands of Vegans StudiedLow Meat or No Meat?EPIC Findings on LymphomaEPIC Study,Omnivores vs. Vegan Nutrient Deficiencies, and Bowel Movement Frequency.

For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: Diet vs. Exercise: What’s More Important?Poultry Paunch: Meat & Weight Gain, and Diet and Cellulite 

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my forthcoming videos for free by clicking here.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    What response was there from the meat industry? Find out in tomorrow’s video-of-the-day Cattlemen’s Association Has Beef With EPIC Study. For more from the EPIC study see Meat & Multiple Myeloma, Thousands of Vegans Studied, Low Meat or No Meat?, EPIC Findings on Lymphoma, EPIC Study, Omnivores vs. Vegan Nutrient Deficiencies, and Bowel Movement Frequency.

    If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my forthcoming videos for free by clicking here.

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      Maybe your above statement should read, “Cattlemen’s Association has COW with EPIC study.

      Don’t make me “Bust-a-gut” you might add.

  • Brian Patrick

    Another great post.  Thanks!  

  • Mary

    Wow!  For years before I became a vegan I heard that red meat was bad for you.  So the only meat I ate was chicken, the “ok” meat.  Apparently, I got only half the truth.   Maybe even less than half, as the preponderance of evidence, per these videos, seems to be against chicken (poultry)!

  • Lauritz Marquardt

    I wonder what the explanation for that effect would be? What can cause weight gain without an increase in total calories. I thought the calories in vs. calories out theorie where true! Could it be the estrogens in farm raised chickens?
    I’m currently testing this out on my own body. I’m eating 1000kcal over my maintenance level on a whole foods plant based low fat diet. So far I can only report muscle growth but no visible fat accumulation. Interesting! Let’s see the results in a few month…

    • Ashish Nair

      The fat you eat is the fat you wear. Isn’t it the case physiologically that the fat from food is converted very efficiently to fat on our body? Carbohydrates are pretty much the opposite, that is its very costly turning it into fat, and that any excess is burned off through movement and heat, i.e. dietary thermogenesis. The science and studies about this are in Dr Mcdougall’s Starch Solution, but he may have them online somewhere… 

  • Lincat13

    What about all those claims for high protein diets like Atkins etc.?  I understand the fact that these diets are unhealthy.  But I always thought that the concensus was that people really did lose weight on them. Could it be the low carb thing?

  • Daniel Wagle

    I don’t really doubt that meat can contribute to weight gain.  Perhaps because it has no fiber, it lingers in the digestive tract and thus more calories are absorbed.  However, I don’t really think a study that is based on retrospective recall of food intake can really accurately control for calorie consumption.  One would need to have a rigorously controlled experimental prospective study where calories are measured and where the subjects could only eat what had been measured out.  You never can guarantee that the diets are isocaloric when the study is based on recall.  Certainly people will not remember how much food they consumed unless they weigh and measure everything and carefully record the portion sizes.  The study I quoted about dieting and exercise in the previous posting was rigorously controlled and the calorie deficits were carefully matched- this produced identical weight loss.  It also sounds like some of the nut studies your mentioned more rigorously matched calories.  This study probably has truth, since there are other studies which corroborate it, but calories have to be carefully measured before one can say they don’t matter.  Probably calories always matter, but calories from some foods are more absorbed than from others, perhaps.

  • dar

    hmm,we know that fattening up critters with antibiotics is common & eating them puts weight on us…does poultry get more ccs per ounce than cows&pigs? or is it the  arsenic added to chicken feed ?

  • greenme

    In general, I love these videos.  I was getting ready to share this one on Facebook until I got to the last comment about the poultry influence not applying to sick people or those who lied about their diet.  Why would you even put that one on the graph, if it’s not proven?  I really don’t want to share skewed results.

    I’d like to see more on the adverse affects of chicken, since that’s what most of my family/friends eat instead of beef.

    • Veganrunner

      Greenme there are many videos under Browse Topics regarding chicken. Had I not watched them I would have still believed it wasn’t so bad for us. The video on chicken an arthritis is particularly enlightening.

  • Bret Patterson

    Is this perhaps because the estimate for the amount of calories in steak was incorrect due to an incorrect assumption of the fat to protein ratio? Because fat has 9 calories per gram while protein has 4 calories per gram even a small ratio change could skew results significantly. This could potentially explain while poultry had a higher gain than even steak, because poultry today is even higher fat than it use to be and could be significantly skewing results based upon how the fat to protein ratio was calculated/measured.

  • Ginny

    Help. I am a vegan and wonder if I should occasionally eat an egg or meat. I don’t really want to but not sure what is the ideal diet for humans as we discuss it in our family. I see that eggs are like cigarettes and that meat is bad for you. But then, I read articles such as this one:

    Please help!

    • Toxins

      I would argue that nutrient dense starches such as wheat, barley, sweet potatoes and beans are better fuels for our brain considering that our brain runs off of glucose and uses most of the bodies glucose.

      Continue eating you whole, plant based vegan diet without fear. They raise a non issue.


    I can’t find anything on the “Series of 8″, could you please provide a link?

  • Elizabeth

    Great video. After becoming a vegetarian I lost 50 pounds over a span of 2 years and lost 10 pounds when I became a vegan. When I was a meat eater I ate a lot of processed meats like turkey and ham slices, hot pockets with meat and cheese, chicken nuggets, etc and maybe a hamburger every once in awhile.