Too much processed meat could increase diabetes risk in men

Posted: Sunday, April 28, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Eat too many hot dogs and they can bite you back. A study shows a diet heavy in processed meats, including hot dogs and bacon, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 50 percent in men, researchers say.

A group of Harvard School of Public Health researchers analyzed the dietary habits of thousands of men and found those who frequently ate bacon, hot dogs, sausage, baloney or other processed meats were 46 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than men who ate less of the food.

''We not proposing to ban hot dogs -- it is just a matter of moderation,'' said Dr. Frank B. Hu, senior author of the study appearing recently in the journal Diabetes Care. ''People should reduce the frequency of eating processed meats.''

Hu said a big increase in risk for diabetes 2 came among those who ate the processed meats five times or more per week. For some, it was every day.

''That's too much,'' he said. ''We should change that eating pattern.''

Diabetes Care is a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Diabetes Association.

The data in the research came from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, a project that started in 1986 by collecting dietary information from 42,504 men, aged 40 to 75, who were healthy -- free of diabetes, heart disease or cancer.

The men in the study were followed for 12 years and the researchers compared the dietary pattern of those who developed type 2 diabetes with those who did not. Hu said the results were adjusted for the known effects of such things as smoking, obesity, fat intake and physical activity. After these adjustments, he said, it was clear that eating lots of hot dogs and other processed meats was an independent risk factor for diabetes.

''Eating processed meats five times or more per week is where we saw the major difference,'' said Hu. ''The effect is dose related -- the more you eat of these foods, the higher the risk.''

Hu said the risk of diabetes may be affected by other foods often consumed in meals featuring processed meats. People seldom eat hot dogs or baloney or bacon alone -- the meats usually are accompanied by high fat condiments, such as mayonnaise, and side dishes like french fries and potato chips.

''We took into account other dietary factors, but it is not possible to entirely rule them out,'' said Hu. ''This result may reflect a typical unhealthy dietary pattern.''

Dr. Ruth Kava, director of nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health, said dietary studies such as this have a basic weakness because they depend upon how well people remember what they eat.

''The difficulty with this type of study is that you can't be sure how accurate it is,'' said Kava. She also noted that seeing a relative risk increase of 46 percent is only ''weakly significant biologically.''

''More study needs to be done,'' said Kava.

Hu agreed, saying that the findings need to be confirmed by other research. But he said the work does suggest that there needs to be research to determine if there is a link between diets high in processed meats and the incidence of heart disease and cancer.

An estimated 16 million Americans are thought to have diabetes. About 90 per cent of the cases are type 2, or adult-onset disease. In type 2, there is either a shortage of insulin or the body's cells become insensitive to the hormone. This allows a build up in the blood of sugar, a condition that can damage the kidneys, heart or eyes, and reduce circulation. Untreated, type 2 diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure, limb amputation and death.

Diabetes contributes to the deaths of almost 200,000 Americans annually.

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