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The Physicians Committee

Processed Meat Is the Next Public Health Crisis
March 20, 2012

It’s National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and just in time. Awareness is in critically short supply. A new survey commissioned by PCRM showed that 39 percent of people surveyed do not know where their colon is, let alone what might cause cancer to develop. In fact, 70 percent do not know they are more likely to get colon cancer from frequently eating processed meats such as hot dogs.

Here are the facts: Colorectal cancer is one of the leading cancers in the United States, attacking 140,000 Americans every year, with a mortality rate close to 50 percent. In 2007, the body of research on this disease, including nearly 60 independent studies, was deemed to provide convincing evidence—the highest possible level of scientific evidence—that hot dogs and other processed meats cause colorectal cancer.

The message has not gotten through. Although cancer organizations have issued media releases and posted public service announcements, the popular press does not pick these stories up and the issue dies then and there.

Years ago, anti-tobacco dealt with the same problem, realizing that sterile messages do not work, and they decided to ramp it up with messages that tested the limits of what people wanted to hear or see. Later on, HIV advocates did the same. To gain media interest and public respect, they used sex, gore, shock, and anything else that could cut through the noise.

At PCRM, we felt humor was better than shock, and wanted to appeal to adolescents, as well as older people, since processed meats are strongly marketed to children and families, because they are cheap and familiar. Hence our billboard proclaiming "Hot Dogs Cause Butt Cancer."

The billboard’s blunt language aims to break America’s dangerous addiction to hot dogs, bacon, and other processed meats. Americans eat 20 billion hot dogs a year. Per capita bacon consumption is 18 pounds a year.

Processed meats are a deadly habit. Each daily serving of hot dogs, bacon, cold cuts, and other processed meats increases the risk of dying prematurely by 20 percent, according to a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health. The study emphasized the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Colorectal cancer is not the only processed meat danger. An NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study found that processed red meat was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. A study in Taiwan showed that consumption of cured and smoked meat can increase children’s risk for leukemia. A study in Australia found that women’s risk for ovarian cancer increased as a result of eating processed meats. A review in the journal Diabetologia found that those who regularly eat processed meats increase their risk for diabetes by 41 percent.

Adults have a right to take risks with their own health. But hot dogs and other processed meats are often fed to children, starting a lifelong habit that puts them at serious risk. It’s time to get serious about health and steer clear of unhealthful foods.


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