Everything In Moderation. . . Especially The News

Ever since the World Health Organization announced on Monday that processed meats were now going to be classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, we’ve been deluged with sensation-seeking and misleading headlines and articles by newspapers all across the country–papers desperate to attract readers to their rapidly-shrinking customer bases.

Sarah Zhang over at Wired has written one of the few pieces I’ve seen that calmly and without sensationalism explains what the WHO finding means for all of us.

In brief, if you eat a little bit of bacon each day, you increase the risk of developing certain types of cancers a little bit.  If you eat a lot bacon or a lot of other processed meats each day, you increase your risk a little more.  In neither case is there clear and convincing evidence that bacon or other processed meats cause the cancers in question, but they almost certainly contribute to their development.

Many people had already drawn these conclusions years ago, either because of prior news reports or because of an intuitive sense that processed meats do some damage to the body in ways not related to the development of cancer.

The WHO’s findings do not mean that people must stop eating bacon or triple-decker hamburgers this very moment, which I, for one, certainly will not do.  The findings do mean that one should begin to reduce one’s intake of such products as soon as possible, which I have done already:  a Bacon Ranch BLT hamburger over at the Hubcap Grill on 19th Street once a month, and a genuine steak maybe once a month or once every two months.  Such meats have proteins that the body ought not to do without, but we should take them in balance with other less troublesome foods that we enjoy:  fish, shellfish, green vegetables, and some variety of wheat bread.


2 thoughts on “Everything In Moderation. . . Especially The News

  1. ramonawray says:

    I have to say the WHO report has had me worried too.We don’t eat a lot of red meat, but we do love our Spaghetti Carbonara, which of course contains quite a bit of bacon… I agree that the key word here is “moderation”. Unfortunately, cancer seems to have become something of an epidemic, so it’s no wonder that people tend to panic at the first mentioning of the word.

  2. Well, that “panic” illustrates my point. While the study does reinforce a linkage between processed meats and certain cancers, it doesn’t say that eating those foods will categorically give us those cancers. The study thus merely re-emphasizes what we’ve already known for some time. Yet, the national news reports on ABC and NBC and in the press, like the *Houston Chronicle* came as close as they could to saying “bacon causes cancer” without saying it. Such reporting is unethical and not helpful to anyone–not even to the newspapers trying to sell their papers if the reading public figures out that they’re not being told the straight story. Inaccuracies such as these are a main reason people have abandoned reading newspapers in the first place and sought their news from other sources. And the trend will continue.

    I’m not as upset by this as that last paragraph makes it sound. I just think newspapers and their sources need to do a better job of reporting the news. Many newspapers have slipped badly during the age of the Internet, combining informationless slideshows with extraordinarily-shallow reporting. My city’s http://www.chron.com is one of the most striking exemplars of the decline, and their “Premium” site isn’t any better–this, for the fourth-largest city in the country. There are honorable exceptions: *The New York Times* online edition is quite good; so is (as far as I can tell) *The Los Angeles Times*, but those are about the only ones I can think of.

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