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Bacon headlines sensationalize health risks

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I recently learned that my mother is no longer feeding my dog bacon because she heard on the news that eating bacon is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes. If you have not been paying attention to the recent uproar about red meats, the WHO (World Health Organization) has recently deemed red meats to be in the same category of cancer risk as cigarettes.

This recent categorization has caused many eye-opening headlines from “Bacon Could Be as Bad For You as Cigarettes” to “Bacon as deadly as cigarettes and asbestos.” This tragic news should be taken with a grain of salt, though, because the actual study that prompted the uproar is not as reliable as these headlines claim.

Twenty-two scientists reviewed evidence that linked processed and red meats to cancer, specifically an increase in colorectal cancer. Taken directly from the WHO press release, the study concludes that “each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.” This puts processed meats into the WHO’s classification one, considered carcinogenic to humans.

It is not suprising that consuming 50 grams of processed meats daily would negatively impact the body,. So I was suprised how much news coverage was dedicated to this subject. To those who have decided to avoid bacon because of cancer risk, please remember the actual ranking system the WHO uses.

Anything designated as category one is there because it has been sufficiently proven to cause cancer. As such, this category includes things such as Aloe vera and sawdust. Category one sounds threatening because it includes tobacco, but that should not deter you from eating bacon.

Compare tobacco to processed meats and it becomes clear that the chances of getting cancer from tobacco are much higher than from eating a few pieces of bacon a day. While the WHO’s findings should still be taken into consideration next time you decide to binge on bacon, the idea that bacon and cigarettes are equally cancerous is statistically inaccurate.

This whole episode should be taken as a cautionary tale about the power of headlines. Many people read and trust just one news source. The reality is that the media will fixate on one thing and blow it out of proportion, often neglecting to give the true statistical facts on the subject.

Analyzing the data on processed meat reveals minimal cancer risk, and comparing it to tobacco is inappropriate. At times, the media’s tendency to exaggerate can actually obscure the truth. Viewers should investigate the actual studies and not just the news reports.

My dog’s suffering could have been avoided if only my mom looked into the data. I encourage you to do the same next time a ridiculous headline seeks to sway your opinion.

Anders Mattson ’19 (mattso1@stolaf.edu) is from Dana Point, Cali. He majors in English.