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Cancer from Processed Meat? Eaters Continue to Eat

bacon by KimTaro/Flickr
Photo by KimTaro

CHICAGO — Last week's release of a World Health Organization study showing a link between processed and red meat consumption and cancer raises the question, will consumers reduce their intake of these foods? If history repeats itself, the study will have little impact on the consumption of these foods, according to foodservice researcher The NPD Group, which has tracked eating behaviors for over 30 years.

Using history as a predictor of future consumption behavior, NPD analyzed consumption behaviors after a 2002 American Cancer Society (ACS) report recommended that consumers limit their consumption of processed and red meats, especially those high in fat. The report, which was widely publicized at the time of its release, cited epidemiologic studies that found populations with diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in animal fat, meat, or calories have a reduced risk of some of the most common types of cancer. In its recommendations, the Cancer Society stated that about 35 percent of cancer deaths in the United States may be avoidable through dietary modification.

The NPD analysis, which was based on information collected through its National Eating Trends service, looked at consumption trends for processed meats, fish/seafood, steak, bacon/substitute bacon, poultry, ham, pork (excluding ham and bacon), and ground beef/hamburger/patties/and dishes. There was no discernible difference in the consumption of processed and red meats or many of the other animal proteins tracked after the American Cancer Society guidelines were released compared to eating patterns prior to 2002. Processed meat consumption did decline somewhat beginning in 2005 until 2007 when its consumption steadily increased through 2014. Poultry consumption also increased from 2003 through 2007 and has plateaued since.

Since attitudes and behaviors can differ, NPD also looked at consumers' intentions to eat processed and red meats after the release of the Cancer Society's dietary guidelines in the spring of 2002 using data from its Food Safety Monitor, which continually tracks awareness and concern about food safety issues. Eating intentions for these foods continued to follow the same patterns as before the release of the guidelines.

"What our analysis shows is that we humans are creatures of habit for the most part, and are slow to change but we do evolve," says Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst. "It's that slow evolution in both attitudes and behaviors to which producers, processors, food manufacturers, and retailers must pay attention."

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Don Sniegowski is editor of Blue MauMau, the daily news journal for franchise & small business owners. Call him at +1 (270) 321-1268, tweet @bluemaumau or email don@bluemaumau.org.