Health Promotion

Red Meat, Death and Research Communication

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On Monday 12 March 2012, researchers from the Harvard Medical School released a study in which linked the consumption of red meat to an increased chance of early death. The study, entitled ‘Red Meat Consumption and Mortality‘ was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It was also accompanied by an editorial entitled ‘Holy Cow! What’s Good for you is Good for Our Planet‘.

The researchers tracked 37698 men for 22 years and 83698 women for 28 years. All the participants were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer when tracking commenced. The diets of the participants were evaluated through questionnaires every four years. The subjects who consumed a card-deck-sized serving of unprocessed red meat each day on average saw a 13 percent higher risk of dying than those who did not consume red meat with the same frequency.

The study has garnered a considerable amount of attention. At the time of initial writing (around 21:00 on the evening of Tuesday 13 March 2012), there were 211 stories related articles that can be accessed on Google News. Another check around 23:00 on the evening of Tuesday 13 March 2012, showed that there were 231 related stories. Here are some examples of the headlines from some of the media outlets across:

United Kingdom

BBC news – ‘Red meat increases death, cancer and heart risk, says study

The Guardian – ‘Eating red meat raises ‘substantially’ risk of cancer or heart disease death

The Independent – ‘Red meat increases risk of early death, says study

The Telegraph – ‘Red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths

Daily Mail – ‘Eating red meat regularly ‘dramatically increases the risk of death from heart disease’ ‘

The Sun – ‘Read meat ‘kills’ Risk of death for regular eaters’goes up 13%’

United States of America

The LA Times – ‘All red meat is bad for you, new study says

ABC News – ‘Red Meat Tied to Increased Mortality Risk

MSNBC – ‘Daily serving of red meat raises risk of cancer, heart disease

CBS News – ‘Study: Red meat raises risk of dying, risk higher with processed meats

Harvard Magazine – ‘Don’t Pass the Bacon

New York Daily News – ‘Red meat boosts risk of dying young: study; Just one portion of processed meat boosts death risk by 20%

Fox News – ‘Red meat linked to premature death, research finds

Canada

CBC – ‘Red meat eaten daily raises early death risk

Globe and Mail – ‘Red meat increases risk of death from cancer

Toronto Star – ‘Red meat linked to higher risk of premature death: Harvard study

Montreal Gazette – ‘Red meat linked to higher risk of premature death

Australia

The Sydney Morning Herald – ‘Huge study shows red meat boosts risk of dying young

Victor Harbor Times – ‘Love affair with flesh hits a snag as study links red meat to risk of death

Various

Time – ‘Just How Unhealthy Is That Steak? The Deadly Dangers of Eating Red Meat

Reuters – ‘More support for passing on the red meat

CNN International – ‘Study: Too much red meat may shorten lifespan

Science Daily – ‘Red Meat Consumption Linked to Increased Risk of Total, Cardiovascular, and Cancer Mortality

Some Notes

Media outlets exist within a context that is structured by the competition for public’s attention. Being constantly bombarded by a variety of stimuli, public attention can be fleeting and therefore is extremely valuable. Consequently, in order to capture the attention, media outlets must refer to very striking differences (differences from the ‘norm’). A response will only be garnered by a strong stimuli (Neidhardt, 1993).

As Neidhardt (1993), points out, the aforegoing scenario leads to implementation of particular strategies:

1) “…existing Material can become loaded linguistically by ‘the use of intense language’.” (p.343)

2) “…the selection of the material is guided by a preference for strongly deviating cases.” (p.343)

Case in point, the aforementioned study.

References

Neidhardt, F. (1993). ‘The Public as a Communication System’ Public Understand. Sci. 2, 339-350. doi: 10.1088/0963-6625/2/4/004

Pan, A., Sun, Q., Bernstein, A.M., Schulze, M.B., Manson, J.E., Stampfer, M.J., Willett, W.C., Hu, F.B. (2012). Red Meat Consumption and Mortality’ Arch Intern Med.   doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287