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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Your Health

Bacon, Ham And Sausage Linked To Cancer

Is your next hot dog worth the risk to your health?

Bringing home the bacon is generally thought to be a good thing. But eating too much of this and other processed meats increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer, according to a report released today by the World Health Organization. The findings are based on decades of research. The organization classifies meats like ham, bacon, and sausage as “Class 1” carcinogens, granting them the same designation as cigarettes and asbestos. The report also found some correlation between red meat consumption and cancer.

Students at the University of Southern California had mixed reactions to the news, with some students who eat these beloved breakfast foods regularly expressing concern. However, many students said they weren’t surprised. 

“I’m already aware of the risks involved in certain behaviors and I still engage in them,” says Lyssa Kennedy, likening eating processed meats to smoking cigarettes or getting in a car every day. 

Other students were more defiant.

“Honestly, at this point it seems like everything causes cancer,” says Lindsay Karle. “I just want to eat and be happy.” Karle added that she doesn’t eat these kinds of meats often.

Dr. David Agus, a professor at USC and cancer expert, says that students like Karle are “right in many respects.”

“There’s a lot of noise. You hear one thing is good, one thing is bad,” says Dr. Agus. “Too much of anything is bad, just try to focus on moderation.”

Is the health risk posed by processed meat just hype? Listen to more from Dr. Agus and USC students.

When it comes to red meat, you can eat three servings a week without incurring additional health risks, according to Dr. Agus. He says that if someone were to eat a hot dog every day, they would only increase their risk for colorectal cancer from 5% (if you eat processed meats at all) to 6%.

This figure pales in comparison to the risk posed by tobacco products. While Cancer Research UK finds that three percent of all cancer deaths can be attributed to diets high in red and processed meats, an estimated thirty percent of all cancer deaths are due to smoking. So, asking for a side of bacon during brunch isn’t quite like lighting up.

The U.S. meat industry is already biting back. In a CNN report, the North American Meat Institute says the WHO’s conclusion "defies both common sense and numerous studies showing no correlation between meat and cancer." The Institute was joined by the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and other members of the meat industry in denouncing the report.

While the findings caused a sizzle among many meat-lovers, the WHO’s panel of experts do caution that the cancer risk posed by red and processed meats is “not yet fully understood.”

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