Recent evidence by Plant-Based Health Professionals UK, whose aim is to provide evidence-based recommendations for public policy on nutrition, diet and lifestyle, has shown that plant-based diets and the removal of processed red meats lowers the risk of contracting any form of cancer. Dr Shireen Kassam is working on a campaign to try to remove processed meats from hospitals in order to promote disease prevention, and wellbeing. The Chartwell Cancer Trust is supporting the campaign, led by Lucy Russell, Clinical Nurse Specialist in Gynaecology at King’s College Hospital.
Dr Shireen Kassam said: “It is a Health Service responsibility to promote health and take a lead in protecting the public from known harms. We therefore see it as a dereliction of our collective professional responsibilities if we allow red processed meat, a known carcinogen, to be served in our UK hospitals to patients, staff and visitors.”
Supporting research shows:
- In 2007 the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund stated categorically that there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer.
- In 2015, the World Health Organisation released a report based on an examination of more than 800 studies. The authors highlighted a 2011 meta-analysis that found that colorectal cancer risk increased by 18 percent for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed per day (fewer than two slices of bacon). The report classified consumption of processed meat as ‘carcinogenic to humans’.
- According to Cancer Research UK, if no one ate processed meat in Britain, there would be 5,400 fewer cases of cancer.
- There is an urgent need to give a clear message to our patients, their families, and friends and to hospital staff that safe nutrition is a central part of healthcare and, therefore, it is axiomatic that prevention from diseases should play a key role in places dedicated to treatment and cure.
What is the Problem with Processed Meat?
By Lucy Russell, Clinical Nurse Specialist in Gynaecology, King’s College Hospital
A group of concerned doctors and health care professionals are spearheading a campaign to remove cancer-causing processed meat from all public-sector hospitals. They believe that it is the responsibility of health care professionals to take a lead in protecting the public from known harms. In 2015 the World Health Organisation published evidence that eating 50 grams of processed meat a day – equivalent to just a couple of rashers of bacon or one hotdog – increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent over a lifetime (eating larger amounts raises the risk more). In the UK 13 percent of bowel cancers per year are caused by processed meat consumption, which accounts for 5,500 new cases each year, according to Cancer Research UK . The reasons that processed red meats (which include bacon, salami, hotdogs and ham) are such a risk for cancer is due to the processing methods, such as curing (e.g., by adding nitrates or nitrites) or smoking, which can lead to the formation of potentially cancer-causing chemicals such as N-nitroso-compounds (NOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). Heme iron also contained in these foods can facilitate the production of cancer-causing NOCs. In addition to the chemicals noted above, cooking red processed meat at high temperatures (e.g., pan-frying, grilling, barbecuing) also produces the cancer-causing chemicals such as heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA)and PAHs.
Further to bowel cancer risks, other cancers have been associated with processed meat consumption. Eating 50 grams of processed meat daily also increases the risk of prostate and pancreatic cancers amongst others . Additionally, in 2018 a large-scale study using data from 262,195 British women suggested that consuming just 9 grams of bacon a day – less than a rasher – could significantly raise the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. The study’s lead author, Jill Pell from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University, stated that it would be misleading for health authorities to set any safe dose for processed meat other than zero .
As well as the cancer risks, processed meat consumption is also associated with other chronic and potentially life-threatening diseases, such as heart failure, type 2 diabetes and stroke due to the high salt and saturated fat content . No wonder that in 2016, Public Health England recommend that the public eat NO ham or bacon! It is indisputably one of the vital issues of our day to raise awareness of the cancer-causing and disease hazards of consuming processed meats: health service leaders and government need to take a lead to get these food risks removed from our hospitals. Places, which are dedicated to healing and health education, should not be serving foods that are known to be detrimental to health.
The UK Plant-Based Health Professionals UK see it as a dereliction of collective health professional responsibilities if red processed meat continues to be served in our UK hospitals to patients, staff and visitors. These health professionals are following the lead set by some hospitals in the United States, which have brought in legislation to remove disease-causing processed meat from hospitals , , .
Howard Memorial Hospital (the latest to join other hospitals in the USA) stated that using food as medicine is not just a way to help patients heal and reduce their risks for negative health outcomes, but also provides a platform to educate. Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), has commended the Howard Memorial Hospital as one of the first to adopt the American Medical Association’s new policy on healthful, healing hospital food. Since the cancer-causing properties of processed meat have been clearly known since 2015, what are we doing still serving it in our hospitals? Surely, we must learn from our previous mistakes of tobacco smoking, which took 31 years to be banned from hospitals despite the Royal College of Physicians definitive report on the risk of smoking in 1962. It is not the intention of health professionals to encroach on the public’s right to eat processed meat, but each individual has a right to know what they are consuming and the inherent risks, particularly in a health care setting.
In 2017, the American Medical Association’s House of Delegates adopted a resolution calling on hospitals to remove processed meat from their menus. BHP UK will be asking the British Medical Association to call on NHS England and Government bodies to remove processed meat from hospital menus, canteens and retail outlets and to provide healthy and tasty alternatives. Join the campaign! Let us make our hospitals places of healing! Visit: www.givebacontheboot.co.uk
 Worldwide Cancer Statistics/Cancer Research UK. www.cancerresearch.org
 Journal of International Medicine 2017 Feb; 281(2):106-122.doi.
 Jill Pell, European Journal of Cancer 2018., 90:73-82.
 https://foodrevolution.org/blog/hospital-food/|[Apr 2018]
 https://www.foodprocessing.com.au/content/prepared-food/news/ama-tells-hospitals-to-remove-processed-meats-from-menus-733133925 [Jul 2017]
 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4623184/Doctors-want-sugary-processed-meats-hospitals.html [June 2017]