Nurses’ Health Study: Red meat linked to diabetes

Eating more red meat over time is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, according to data from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

Red meat consumption has been consistently related to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, but previous studies measured consumption at a baseline with limited follow-up information, according to background information for the latest study, which was published June 17 on the website of JAMA Internal Medicine. However, a person’s eating behavior changes over time and measurement of consumption at a single point in time does not capture the variability of intake during follow-up, the authors wrote.

An Pan, PhD, of the National University of Singapore, and colleagues analyzed data from three Harvard group studies and followed up 26,357 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study; 48,709 women in the Nurses’ Health Study; and 74,077 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Diets were assessed using food frequency questionnaires and updated every four years.

During more than 1.9 million person-years of follow-up, researchers documented 7,540 incident cases of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Compared with a group with no change in red meat intake, increasing red meat intake by more than half a serving per day was associated with a 48% elevated risk in the subsequent four-year period. Reducing red meat consumption by more than half a serving a day from baseline to the first four years of follow-up was associated with a 14% lower risk during the subsequent entire follow-up.

The authors noted that because the study is observational (rather than a randomized clinical trial), causality cannot be inferred. However, “our results confirm the robustness of the association between red meat and T2DM and add further evidence that limiting red meat consumption over time confers benefits for T2DM prevention,” they wrote.

Read the study abstract:

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