Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Whose report? WHO's report.

I am not a scientist. I am not a researcher. I am not a statistician. Hell, as often as I scribble something down, I don't even think I can call myself a blogger. But I would like to attach some numbers to the WHO's recent "Bacon is meaty death" study that seems to be getting press lately.

If you are to read some of the articles about this study  you'd be prepared to start injecting liquefied Brussels sprouts straight into your veins to fend off the evils of delicious pastrami.

"A research division of the World Health Organization announced Monday that bacon, sausage and other processed meats cause cancer and that red meat probably does, too.... In reaching its conclusion, the panel sought to quantify the risks, and compared to carcinogens such as cigarettes..."

OH MY GOD.  My smoked s'pork ribs are nothing but carnivore Marlboro's!

But I wonder...  what is the mathiness on this?

It appears the chances of me getting colon cancer in the next 30 years are about 3.39%.

BUT... If I were to throw caution to the wind and act like the daredevil I sometimes can be and consume a serving of red meat a day, I have a scary 17% increase!  That means I have a 20.39% chance of getting cancer!  Right? .... um... no.  It means my chances are 17% of 3.39% higher.  It means my chances just sky-rocketed from 3.39% chance of getting colon cancer to a 3.96% chance of getting colon cancer.

But Satan lives in a bucket of nitrates.  The bacon weel keel you.  Because if you dare smoke that meat... or pickle it... or cure it in any other evil way that Hitler obviously invented, you're going to get an 18% increase in risk.  Or, in other words, I would have 4% risk of getting colon cancer.  That extra sprinkle of salt got you an incremental 4 out of ten thousand people that might get cancer over the plain old red meat eaters.

And this is why I detest observational studies like this.  You ask a few thousand people what they ate last week.  They lie.  They guess.  They approximate.  (Tell me, measured in grams to the nearest tenth, how much of what food you had last week.)  And then you average all that together.  You then take 799 similar studies and try to pull meaningful data out of them.  When you find some small anomaly, you then rush to the press and scream "DEATH!  MURDER!  MAYHEM!" from the highest mountain top... even though the evidence is based on shaky data and at best affects 6 people in a thousand.

The real kicker comes when you lovingly tie this to smoking cigarettes as a cancer risk, as has been done in the press.  Now, our delicious salami gave us an 18% increased risk or 1.18 times the chance of getting colon cancer.   Smoking cigarettes is associated with a 2500% increase in lung cancers (25 times! Not 1.18 times!)  These numbers do not compare.  We're not talking apples and oranges here.  No: we're talking English peas and wrecking balls.

So please:  Step away from my barbecue pit.  There's nothing to see here.  And if you want to do an actual randomized, controlled clinical trial, I will volunteer to be in the group with the smoked ham.


Just for fun, let's list some other items on the Group 1 carcinogen hit list that you'll need to give up in addition to processed meat:
  • Oral contraceptives
  • alcoholic beverages
  • outdoor air
  • sunlight

And the list of Group 2A things you'll also want to avoid in addition to plain old red meat:
  • frying emissions (just being near it... not even eating it)
  • a nice warm fireplace
  • working nights

So as long as you are a sober, celibate, pasty white, vitamin D deprived individual that has regular sleeping hours and remains shivering indoors with no fireplace and no french fries... You'll be fine.