Men Who Eat Processed Meat Can Increase Risk Of Diabetes

By PAUL RECER, AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - A diet packed with hot dogs, bologna and bacon can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 50 percent in men, researchers reported Tuesday.

In a study appearing in the journal Diabetes Care, a group of Harvard School of Public Health researchers analyzed the dietary habits of thousands of men and found that those who frequently ate processed meats had a 46 percent greater probability of developing type 2 diabetes than men who ate less of the food.

"We not proposing to ban hot dogs. It is just a matter of moderation," said Dr. Frank Hu, the study's senior author. "People should reduce the frequency of eating processed meats."

Hu said the big increase in risk for diabetes 2 came among those who ate processed meats five times or more per week. For some, it was every day.

"That's too much," Hu said. "We should change that eating pattern."

Diabetes Care is a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Diabetes Association.

The data in the research came from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, a project that began in 1986 by collecting dietary information from 42,504 men, aged 40 to 75, who were healthy, free of diabetes, heart disease or cancer.

The men in the study were followed for 12 years, and the researchers compared the dietary patterns of those who developed type 2 diabetes with eating habits of those who did not. Hu said the results were adjusted for known effects of activities such as smoking, obesity, fat intake and physical activity. After these adjustments, he said, it was clear that eating abundant hot dogs and other processed meats was an independent risk factor for diabetes.

"Eating processed meats five times or more per week is where we saw the major difference," said Hu. "The effect is dose-related: The more you eat of these foods, the higher the risk."

Hu said the risk of diabetes may be affected by other foods often consumed in meals featuring processed meats. People seldom eat hot dogs or bologna or bacon alone. The meats usually are accompanied by high fat condiments, such as mayonnaise, and side dishes like french fries and potato chips.

"We took into account other dietary factors, but it is not possible to entirely rule them out," said Hu. "This result may reflect a typical unhealthy dietary pattern."

Dr. Ruth Kava, director of nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health, said dietary studies such as this have a basic weakness because they depend upon how well people remember what they eat.

"The difficulty with this type of study is that you can't be sure how accurate it is," said Kava. She also noted that seeing a relative risk increase of 46 percent is only "weakly significant biologically."

"More study needs to be done," said Kava.

Hu agreed, saying that the findings need to be confirmed by other research. He said the work nevertheless suggests that research is needed to determine if a link exists between diets high in processed meats and the incidence of heart disease and cancer.

Approximately 16 million Americans are thought to have diabetes. About 90 percent of the cases are type 2, or adult-onset disease.

In type 2, there is either a shortage of insulin or the body's cells become insensitive to the hormone. This allows a buildup in the blood of sugar, which can damage the kidneys, heart or eyes and reduce circulation. Untreated, type 2 diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure, limb amputation and death.

Diabetes contributes to the deaths of almost 200,000 Americans annually.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)