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Diets High in Meat Consumption Associated with Obesity


A diet that promotes meat consumption might increase your risk of becoming obese, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers examined the association between meat consumption and adiposity measures such as body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, obesity and central obesity (deposits of body fat localized around the abdomen) based on nationally representative survey data. They found that study participants who consumed high amounts of meat had higher energy intake compared to those who consumed less meat, and were 33 percent more likely to have central obesity. The results are published in the June 2009 issue of the International Journal of Obesity.

Youfa Wang, MD, PhD, MS, senior author of the study and associate professor with the Bloomberg School’s Center for Human Nutrition, along with May A. Beydoun, PhD, a former postdoctoral research fellow at the Bloomberg School, used cross-sectional data to examine the association between total meat consumption, consumption of various types of meats and body fat measures. Participants were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a series of surveys that provide nationally representative information on the nutrition and health status of the U.S. civilian population. NHANES survey participants provided weight, height and waist circumference measurements and their dietary consumption. In their study, Wang and Beydoun divided dietary intake into several food groups: meats (total meat, including all animal source food; red meat, beef, pork lamb, veal and game); poultry (chicken, turkey, duck and other poultry); seafood (fish and shellfish); other meat products (such as frankfurter and sausage, organ meats and food mixtures, mainly composed of meat, poultry and fish); vegetables and fruits; and grains.

“While Americans had a high level of meat consumption per capita they lacked adequate consumption of fruits , vegetables and dairy, consuming on average 2.3 servings per 1,000 kilocalories of meat and meat products, compared to only 1.5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 0.3 servings of whole grains and 0.7 servings of dairy,” said Wang. “This translates to approximately 4.6 servings of meat, 3 servings of fruits and vegetables, and 1.4 servings of dairy per day although Americans are recommended to consume at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables and 3 servings of dairy per day. Participants consuming higher amounts of meat (upper quintile) were nearly 27 percent more likely to be obese, compared to those who consumed low amounts (lowest quintile). In fact, higher intakes of “all meat” and “other meat” products were associated with higher BMI and waist circumference, whereas intake of vegetables and fruits was inversely associated with BMI.”

Obesity increases the risk of a number of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes and is on the rise in the U.S. Various diets have advocated that a high protein and low-carbohydrate diet promotes weight loss and prevents obesity. However, findings from controlled intervention trials are mixed, and do not support this.

“Our analysis based on the recent nationally representative data shows a consistent positive association between meat consumption and adiposity measures among U.S. adults. This may suggest diets that promote high meat consumption, such as the Atkins diet, might lead to higher BMI, waist circumference and obesity, although long-term intervention trials are needed to test the causal relationship,” said Beydoun. “This finding along with that of adverse effects of meat consumption on the risk of other chronic diseases revealed by other cohort studies combined with the unfavorable environmental impact of meat production argue against adopting a high-meat diet for long-term healthy weight management.”

“Meat Consumption Is Associated with Obesity and Central Obesity Among U.S. Adults” was written by Youfa Wang and May A. Beydoun.

The research was supported in part by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Media contact for Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Natalie Wood-Wright at 410-614-6029 or