We know that smoking is bad for us.
Smoking has clearly been proven to cause cancer (and many other diseases), and therefore a health-warning label is required to appear on every pack of cigarettes. It has been that way for over 50 years.
Of course cigarettes and alcohol can only legally be purchased and consumed by adults.
But there is another known carcinogen that many people consume every day and feed to their children.
In fact, there are over 100 known human carcinogens.
But only a few of these are related to diet and lifestyle (most are chemicals in the environment and other exposures).
If there was something you were doing every day that was known to cause cancer, wouldn’t you want to know about it?
Perhaps, like cigarettes and alcohol, some people would choose to do it anyway.
If you knew something caused cancer, would you give it to your kids? Probably not, just like you wouldn’t want to expose them to toxic chemicals.
But there is a high probability that you are regularly eating a cancer-causing food, and putting it on your kids’ plates, too.
That cancer-causing food is processed meat.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (the cancer agency of the World Health Organization) has classified processed meat as a carcinogen, something that causes cancer. That means that processed meat is a Group 1 carcinogen, in the same class as asbestos and tobacco.
Red meat is classified as a probable carcinogen (Group 2A), something that probably causes cancer.
Processed meat includes hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats. Any meat that has been treated in some way to preserve or flavor it is processed meat (e.g. salting, curing, fermenting, smoking). Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb, and goat.
This finding was reached by 22 experts from 10 countries who reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions.
Eating just one hot dog or 4 strips of bacon every day leads to a double-digit increase in colorectal cancer risk, and for red meat there is evidence of increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.
We are 100% certain that processed meat causes cancer.
About 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat.
And although eating red meat has not yet been proven to cause cancer, if the reported associations were proven to be causal, diets high in red meat could be responsible for 50,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide.
Those numbers don’t even include the other negative health outcomes caused by eating processed and red meat, such as high blood pressure and heart and cardiovascular disease.
You may think that bacon is one of the joys of life, and still choose to eat it and serve it to your kids, but you should at least know about the risks.
Although these findings are several years old, most people have no idea that processed meat causes cancer. They grew up with hot dogs and cold cuts, and therefore give those foods to their kids as well.
Yes, the occasional hot dog or hamburger is probably okay, just like the occasional cigarette or martini won’t kill you.
But if the risks of tobacco and alcohol are widely known — and those products are required to display health warnings — then processed meat should be held to the same standard.
Processed meat is known to cause cancer.
Every package of processed meat should display that fact.
It is inexcusable that millions of pounds of processed meat are eaten every year (the average American eats nearly 18 pounds of bacon alone per year), and served to our kids, without the health risks being front and center.
Perhaps many people would make the same food choices anyway.
But I know I’ll think twice before I give my kids another hot dog, and I certainly won’t make a habit of giving them processed and red meat.
I wouldn’t encourage my kids to take up smoking, and I won’t steer them into a meat-based diet, either.