Study linking deaths to red meat ‘appears implausible’ and ‘lacks transparency’

In 2020, the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) 2019 was published in The Lancet​. According to its findings, a ‘substantial’ increase in diet-related burden was observed, which the authors associated with red meat intake.

In the GBD 2017 analysis, 25,000 deaths and 1.3 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) were attributed to diets high in red meat. Red meat intake was among the least important of 15 dietary risk factors.

However, by GBD 2019, estimates of deaths attributable to unprocessed red meat intake had increased 36-fold, with estimates of DALYs attributable to unprocessed red meat intake up 18-fold.

Two years on since GBD 2019 was published, a team of international researchers are questioning these findings, citing ‘serious concerns’ about the most recent GBD systematic analysis of risk factors

A 36-fold increase in estimated deaths

A 36-fold increase in estimated deaths and 18-fold increase in estimated DALYs attributable to unprocessed red meat intake is ‘significant’, noted the researchers in an article published by The Lancet ​in February this year. Indeed, the GBD 2019 authors admitted this at the time.

Three major sources were judged responsible for the substantial increase: changes in the crosswalks between alternative and reference methods for estimating diet intake, new systematic reviews and meta-regressions, and more empirical standardized methods for selecting the theoretical minimum risk exposure level (TMREL) for protective factors.

For red meat, all three sources influence the estimates. However, researchers suggest the new systematic reviews and meta-regressions and the setting of the red meat TMREL to 0g per day appear to be two sources of ‘particular’ importance.

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