Smart Eaters
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

News & Views

WEIGHT MANAGEMENT: Meat Eating does not make us fat

Meat eating generally not associated with weight gain says 14-year long European study

According to a newly published study, at least for the older ones amongst us, eating more or less meat generally will not make a difference to our weight levels. Furthermore, perhaps surprising to some, those eating the most beef fared better over time (showing on average a small weight drop) whereas chicken eaters were shown to be statistically likely to gain weight.


The Netherlands Cohort Study on Diet and Cancer (NLCS) began in 1986 involving over 120,000 individuals. This review refers to a paper published in the current edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (February 2012: J. Nutr. 2012 142: 340-349) involving a sub-cohort of an initial randomly selected 5,000 older individuals, aged between 55 and 69. Participants were analysed 3 times: at baseline, after 6 years and at 14 years with a little over 2,000 individuals studied till the 14 year end point.


Findings were analysed for total meat overall and also for red meat, beef, pork, minced meat, chicken, processed meat and fish.

And here it is: no association between total fresh meat consumption and prospective BMI change was observed in men (?BMI change highest vs. lowest quintile after 14 y: ?0.06 kg/m2; P = 0.75) or women (?BMI change: 0.26 kg/m2; P = 0.20).


Men with the highest intake of beef experienced a significantly lower increase in BMI after 6 and 14 years than those with the lowest intake (?BMI change after 14 y 0.60 kg/m2).


At the 14 year end point, a significantly higher increase in BMI was associated with higher intakes of pork in women (?BMI change highest vs. lowest quintile: 0.47 kg/m2) and chicken in both sexes (?BMI change highest vs. lowest category in both men and women: 0.36 kg/m2).


So can we infer anything generally about weight management and meat intake from this study? Many other studies have shown that vegetarians tend to have lower obesity rates than meat eaters but this may be to do with other associated factors such as higher intake of other healthy foods , lower energy intake overall, a more favourable lifestyle etc. Other studies on meat and weight levels have yielded mixed results.


It is important to note that, for both sexes, higher fresh meat consumption (across the 5 quintiles) was correlated with a higher BMI at baseline. This might in theory mean that a weight gaining effect amongst the major carnivores may have already occured earlier in adulthood.


Also of interest is that this study showed a significant gain in weight in both sexes from higher chicken intake, something also found in the recently reported major EPIC-PANACEA study. This is of significance as the general wisdom is that chicken is the healthier option over red meat alternatives.


Possible sources of error referred to in the study itself include the possibility that individuals with the lowest total meat intake may have had an overall healthier lifestyle than did those with the highest intake, resulting in less of a BMI increase over time. The study attempted to control for confounders like vegetable intake etc. with the findings remaining broadly unchanged.


As common in many such observational studies, only BMI measurements were used so that, if existing, any shifts in lean muscle to fat mass ratios were not detected.


Our conclusion from this study?  It appears to offer one further piece of good evidence that the mass demonising of meat eating generally in favour of just about any other alternative is probably misplaced, certainly if weight management alone is the priority.