Patterns of Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk for Cardiometabolic and Cancer Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies

Ann Intern Med. 2019 Nov 19;171(10):732-741. doi: 10.7326/M19-1583. Epub 2019 Oct 1.


This article has been corrected. The original version (PDF) is appended to this article as a Supplement.

Background: Studying dietary patterns may provide insights into the potential effects of red and processed meat on health outcomes.

Purpose: To evaluate the effect of dietary patterns, including different amounts of red or processed meat, on all-cause mortality, cardiometabolic outcomes, and cancer incidence and mortality.

Data sources: Systematic search of MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, CINAHL, Web of Science, and ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global from inception to April 2019 with no restrictions on year or language.

Study selection: Teams of 2 reviewers independently screened search results and included prospective cohort studies with 1000 or more participants that reported on the association between dietary patterns and health outcomes.

Data extraction: Two reviewers independently extracted data, assessed risk of bias, and evaluated the certainty of evidence using GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) criteria.

Data synthesis: Eligible studies that followed patients for 2 to 34 years revealed low- to very-low-certainty evidence that dietary patterns lower in red and processed meat intake result in very small or possibly small decreases in all-cause mortality, cancer mortality and incidence, cardiovascular mortality, nonfatal coronary heart disease, fatal and nonfatal myocardial infarction, and type 2 diabetes. For all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular mortality and incidence of some types of cancer, the total sample included more than 400 000 patients; for other outcomes, total samples included 4000 to more than 300 000 patients.

Limitation: Observational studies are prone to residual confounding, and these studies provide low- or very-low-certainty evidence according to the GRADE criteria.

Conclusion: Low- or very-low-certainty evidence suggests that dietary patterns with less red and processed meat intake may result in very small reductions in adverse cardiometabolic and cancer outcomes.

Primary funding source: None. (PROSPERO: CRD42017074074).

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Meat Products / adverse effects*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Red Meat / adverse effects*