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The Link Between Meat And Cancer- What Does The Data Say?

November 6, 2015

There has been a lot of talk lately since the World Health Organization released a study on the correlation between red meat and cancer. Many health experts are calling for all Americans to back away from meat consumption and the meat industry is holding its ground with a firm statement that meat is part of a balanced diet because of its nutritious attributes such as high protein and iron content.

With both WHO and the Meat Industry assertively standing by their opinions, who can we trust? Does meat really cause cancer or is this just a way to discourage meat consumption to help other issues such as climate change? This is where it is important to look at the data.

Data is objective and cannot lean one way or another based on emotion or personal preference. The most effective way to discover the truth about what causes cancer is to analyze the data without bias (human bias and variable bias). The problem is that it is much easier to look at only the pieces of data that support your hypothesis. If you are looking at data to determine if meat causes cancer, you are naturally going to only be looking for the data that correlates with that prediction.

Even if scientists are doing their job correctly and being as unbiased as possible, it is still very difficult to say that eating processed or red meat 100% causes cancer. There are so many different variables that go into cancer including, exercise, smoking, genetics, etc. that we would have to raise people in bubbles exposed to only one variable to fully determine causation.

I guess what to take away from this would be that both parties are somewhat correct. There is data that shows the positive effects of meat consumption and there is also data that shows the negative. Meat is one of those things that should be enjoyed in moderation. It is obviously unhealthy to eat six strips of bacon everyday, but having a few pieces every once in a while is perfectly fine. Maybe one day we will all be required to wear Fitbit type hardware that reports what we eat and do to the cancer research society and then they would be able to form better correlations. But for now it is important to remember that just because there is a connection to cancer does not mean that it should be deemed cancer causing.

What to read next: Big Data, What Is It Good For? 

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