Smoking/Animal Protein Link is 'Triumph of Media Spin', Says NHS

UK – The National Health Service (NHS) has described as ‘unsupported’ media claims that high protein diets are as bad for human health as smoking.
calendar icon 7 March 2014
clock icon 4 minute read

Health experts have defended the nutritional value of meat and dairy products after a University of Southern California study caused media frenzy by linking high level animal protein consumption and cancer.

In particular, the report stressed added chance of death to the over 50’s.

In a statement, the NHS said: "We need to eat protein, we do not need to smoke."

The National Health Service assessed claims in the Daily Telegraph that an animal protein-rich diet equates to smoking 20 cigarettes a day as a ‘triumph of PR spin’.

"This summation appeared in a response to ‘disproportionate’ prominence given to the study by national newspapers.

"In general, reporting of the results of the study was reasonable.

"However, the prominence given to the story (which featured as a front page lead in The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian) in the UK media seems disproportionate."

Furthermore, dietary experts have played down the value of the study.

Misgivings over sample size, duration of the dietary intake surveyed and the disregard of physical activity by the study have been voiced by farming industry spokespeople and health officials alike.

The study, which appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Cell Metabolism used 6,400 Americans and monitored dietary intake for 24 hours.

Chief Executive of Dairy UK, Dr Judith Bryans said: "It is deeply regrettable that there is so much misleading information circulated on these matters which is not underpinned by consensus research.

“The US study was a single study and a very small sample size, and those who were in high protein groups were consuming twice the recommended intake of protein. In the UK, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey reports that people over the age of 50 only get 2.5 per cent of their daily energy intake from dairy protein – a combination of milk, cheese and yogurt.”

Along with meat industry groups, Dr Bryans championed the role of animal protein in a mixed diet, and she added: "Over-consumption of any nutrient is not recommended and the interests of consumers would be better served by a more balanced approach to research. We advocate that consumers enjoy a balanced diet."

Dr Bryans spoke of the raft of studies that highlight dairy products as part of a healthy diet.

Pork and red meat levy boards BPEX and EBLEX Nutrition Manager, Maureen Strong, stressed the complicated nature of diabetes and cancer.

She said this means there will be no revisions to current dietary advice, despite the study's conclusions.

“Scientists need to be cautious in interpreting the results from these types of studies and act responsibly when communicating them to the general public,” said Mrs Strong. “Whilst statistical associations may be identified this does not prove a causal link.”

Meanwhile, consumers have been advised of the dangers of smoking, alcohol, lack of physical activity to cancer risk.

Mrs Strong these key risk factors are already well established.

She concluded: “Risk cannot be attributed to one specific food or nutrient and to suggest otherwise is grossly misleading and unhelpful in the promotion of consistent evidence-based health messages to the public.”

Further Reading

You can view the full NHS reaction by clicking here.
See our previous report on the US study by clicking here.

Michael Priestley

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