Giving Up Bacon Reduces Cancer Risk.... By 1 Percent
The World Health Organization is launching another broadside in the culture wars, declaring red meat a health risk and asserting that “processed meats,” including bacon and hot dogs, were cancer risks. To ensure everyone got the message, WHO put bacon into the same category of cancer risk as smoking or asbestos.
That last bit is really nothing more than PR. It does not mean, as the WHO implies, that eating bacon is anywhere nearly as dangerous to your health as smoking or installing insulation in the 1950s. It simply means that eating certain amounts of bacon every day can, by itself, increase your risk of getting a particular type of cancer.
Even that “by itself” is misleading because few studies of health can isolate the innumerable variables that affect our well-being. Genes, overall diet, physical activity, lifestyle and socio-economic factors all have strong supporting roles in our health risks. Few bacon eaters have exactly the same health profiles, for example.
Let’s, however, for fun, take the WHO at its word and assume that bacon joins smoking and asbestos in the dangerous game of cancer-roulette. How much is the risk?
Smoking increases your risk of cancer by 2,500 percent. Eating two pieces of bacon every day, or one hot dog every day, increases your risk of cancer by 18 percent. Technically, they all increase your risk of cancer. They aren’t even remotely in the same ballpark though, are they?
Keep in mind, eating a hot dog every day doesn’t increase your risk of cancer to 18 percent, but increases your risk higher than it would be if you didn’t eat that frankfurter at all. The WHO is peddling “relative risk” here.
You have an X risk of getting cancer, basically because you are alive. If you eat bacon every day, however, your relative risk is 18 percent higher than X.