It’s been tough to be a meat lover over the last year or so. It seems like every few months—or weeks—some health organization or high-profile group of scientists issues a report linking meat consumption to cancer or another scary malady. If you thought 2016 was going to be any different, more bad news: a massive new study has found that meat doesn’t just give you cancer—it raises mortality rates and your likelihood of dying from any number of diet-related ailments. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona reviewed six large-scale studies that tracked more than 1.5 million people for periods ranging from five-and-a-half to 28 years. Participants ranged from hardcore vegans to those who stuffed their face with meat every day. Their review, published under the title “Is Meat Killing Us?” in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, found that meat is, indeed, killing us.
“This data reinforces what we have known for so long—your diet has great potential to harm or heal,” said Brookshield Laurent of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Though it may come as no surprise by this point, a diet that includes red meat—including beef, pork, lamb and game, or processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, and ham—raises the risks of developing cardiovascular disease or cancer, as well as of suffering from health problems like diabetes and increased blood pressure. Processed meats were found to be particularly harmful.
And if you thought just a little meat now and then isn’t so bad, the review found that the steepest rise in mortality occurred at the smallest increases of red-meat intake.
The study concluded that, despite some variability in the data, “the evidence is consistent that increased intake of red meat, especially processed red meat, is associated with increased all-cause mortality.”
Furthermore—as vegans will surely love to point out—the study found that in smaller studies, “a vegan diet has been shown to improve several parameters of health, including reversal of cardiovascular disease, decreased body mass index, decreased risk of diabetes, and decreased blood pressure.”
And the old hippies were right—sticking with a plants-only diet for the long run had the most benefits. People on a vegetarian diet for more than 17 years increased their life expectancy by 3.6 years, compared to short-term vegetarians who saw smaller benefits.
The outlook for meat and your health may be looking increasingly grim, but in the long run, what’s 3.6 years? Only you can decide—and only you can assess the worth of a cheeseburger in terms of your time on Earth.