Transcript: The Palatability of Cancer Prevention
The most extensive report on diet and cancer in history is constantly being updated with all the new research. In their update on colorectal cancer a few years ago, they implicated various meats including processed meat as a convincing cause of colorectal cancer, their highest level of evidence, effectively meaning beyond a reasonable doubt. More recently, processed meat was confirmed as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. The main message was that the best prevention of colorectal cancer is the combination of higher physical activity with a fiber-rich and meat product-poor diet. A decrease by half a turkey sandwich worth of meat might lower the total number of colorectal cancer cases by approximately 20%. There are several implications of this cancer guideline update, but this Meat Science paper decided to focus on the consumer side of the story, since in their eyes, every consumer is a patient and vice-versa at some point in the future, but chronic disease need not be an invariable consequence of aging.
Although the evidence for the relationship between colorectal cancer risk (at least) and processed meats intake cannot be denied, they suggest further research. For example, compare the risk of consuming meat to other risky practices—alcohol, lack of physical activity, obesity, and smoking. Compared to lung cancer and smoking, maybe meat wouldn’t look so bad.
But consumers probably won’t even ever hear about the cancer prevention guidelines. Consumers today are overloaded with information. It is, thus, probable that the dissemination of the update on colorectal cancer will drown in this information cloud. And even if consumers do see it, the meat industry doesn’t think they’ll much care.
For many consumers in the Western world, the role of healthfulness, although important, is not close to the role of taste satisfaction in shaping their final choice of meat and meat products. It is, hence, questionable whether the revised recommendations based on the carcinogenic effects of meat consumption will yield substantial changes in consumer behavior.
Doctors and nutrition professionals feed into this patronizing attitude that people don’t care enough about their health to change. This paper from a leading nutrition journal scoffed at the idea that people would ever switch to a “prudent diet,” reducing their intakes of animal protein and fat no matter how much cancer was prevented. The chances of reducing consumption of fat, protein foods, or indeed of any food to a significant extent to avoid colon cancer are virtually nil. Consider heart disease. We know that we can prevent and treat heart disease with the same kind of diet, but the public just won’t do it. “The diet,” they say, “would lose too much of its palatability.”
The great palatability of ham, in other words, largely outweighs other considerations, although health and well-being are increasingly important factors in consumer decisions. This 1998 Meat Science article feared that unless meat eating becomes compatible with eating that is healthy and wholesome, it will be consigned to a minor role in the diet in developed countries during the next decade. Their prediction didn’t quite pan out. Here’s meat consumption per person over about the last 30 years: rising, rising. 1998 was when the Meat Science article was published, worrying about the next decade of meat consumption. However, meat consumption rose even further, but then did seem to kind of flatten out, before it fell off a cliff. Meat consumption down like 10% in recent years. Millions of Americans are cutting down on meat.
So, don’t tell me people aren’t willing to change their diets. Yet, we continue to get diluted guidelines and dietary recommendations, because authorities are asking themselves: What dietary changes could be acceptable to the public rather than just telling us what the best available science says and letting us make up our own minds about feeding ourselves and our families.
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 Katie Schloer.
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