The rising burden of type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a major public health concern worldwide. The link between dietary choices and the development of T2D has been the subject of extensive research. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in October 2023 sheds light on the association between red meat consumption and the risk of T2D. The analysis underscores the importance of dietary guidelines that recommend limiting red meat intake and highlights the potential benefits of substituting red meat with healthy plant-based protein sources.

T2D is a chronic metabolic disorder characterised by high blood sugar levels resulting from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. Its rising prevalence is a matter of considerable concern due to the significant burden it places on healthcare systems and individuals. T2D leads to various health complications including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, cancer, and dementia, and it also increases the risk of mortality. Understanding the risk factors for T2D, such as dietary choices, is essential for preventing and managing this disease.

Previous research has shown that processed and unprocessed red meat, both of which are staples in many diets, has adverse effects on health when consumed in excess. Processed red meat often contains additives and preservatives that may contribute to its detrimental health effects. While unprocessed red meat, such as beef, pork, and lamb, are a valuable source of essential nutrients, they can also be high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which are linked to various health problems.

The study was conducted by researchers from Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health and involved 216,695 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), NHS II, and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS). Over an extended period of up to 36 years, participants’ dietary habits were assessed through food frequency questionnaires. Over this period, more than 22,000 participants developed T2D.

The study revealed that red meat consumption, encompassing both processed and unprocessed red meat, was strongly associated with an increased risk of T2D. The findings indicated that participants who consumed the highest amount of red meat faced a 62% higher risk of developing T2D compared to those with the lowest intake. Moreover, every additional daily serving of processed red meat was associated with a 46% greater risk of T2D, and every additional daily serving of unprocessed red meat was linked to a 24% greater risk. According to GlobalData epidemiologists, across the nine major pharmaceutical markets (9MM) (US, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, China, and India), the diagnosed prevalent cases of T2D are expected to grow from 193 million cases in 2023 to over 210 million cases by 2028, at a growth rate of 2.9% per year. Given the rapidly growing elderly population worldwide, GlobalData epidemiologists expect the diagnosed prevalence of T2D to increase over the coming years.

These findings strengthen the existing body of evidence that suggests a strong connection between red meat consumption and the risk of developing T2D. The implications of this association are particularly significant in light of the increasing rates of T2D in the US and around the world. Moreover, this work highlights the importance of adhering to dietary guidelines that recommend the limitation of red meat consumption and promote the substitution of red meat with healthier protein sources. By making these simple dietary changes, individuals can take proactive steps to reduce their risk of T2D and contribute to a healthier and more sustainable future.

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By GlobalData