Ground beef in one pound cuts makes its way down a conveyor belt to be packaged at the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market meat processing facility. (ALEX GALLARDO/REUTERS)

THE QUESTION Eating red meat is associated with a greater risk of developing such chronic diseases as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. But is it also associated with a higher mortality rate?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 121,342 adults, most in their late 40s to early 50s, who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at the start of the study. During a span of more than two decades, 23,926 of them died, including 5,910 from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 from cancer. Chances of dying during this time were greater for those who ate the most unprocessed red meat (such as beef, pork and lamb) and processed red meat (bacon, hot dogs, sausage, bologna). For each additional three-ounce serving daily of unprocessed red meat, overall chances of dying increased by 13 percent, and risk for death from cardiovascular disease rose by 18 percent and from cancer by 10 percent. Comparable increases in consumption of processed red meat raised the overall chance of dying by 20 percent, with 21 and 16 percent increases for cardiovascular disease and cancer, respectively. Substituting one serving of red meat a day for a serving of fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products or whole grains lowered risk by 7 to 19 percent.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Adults who eat red meat. Though a good source of protein, red meat also can be high in fat, especially unhealthful saturated fat.

CAVEATS Data on meat consumption came from people’s responses on questionnaires. The study did not differentiate between consumption of lean and fatty red meat. Participants were mostly white, and all were health-care professionals; whether the findings apply to other groups is unclear.

FIND THIS STUDY April 9 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine (www.archinternmed.com).

LEARN MORE ABOUT healthy eating at www.cdc.gov/nutrition

and www.mayoclinic.com (search for “nutrition”).

Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.