Americans Just Aren’t Listening to Doctors and Nutritionists, Study Finds

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For decades, everyone from medical researchers to academic nutritionists to pop-culture dieticians has been telling us the same thing: For longer, healthier lives, eat less processed meat and consume more seafood.

According to a new study just published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, we apparently haven’t been listening to a word they’ve said.

The study, “Trends in Processed Meat, Unprocessed Red Meat, Poultry, and Fish Consumption in the United States, 1999-2016,” reveals that over the 18-year course of the research, the quantity of processed meats Americans ate actually increased slightly. This occurred, said Dr. Fang Fang Zhang of the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, “Despite strong evidence linking processed meat with cancer.” 

In 1999, Americans ate a weekly average of 182 grams (6.4 ounces) per person of processed meats — including luncheon meats, sausage, hot dogs, ham, and bacon. In 2006, the average was 187 grams (6.6 ounces). Fast-food restaurants were among the main sources of these meats, according to the study. That’s no surprise, as they often feature in the unhealthiest items at every fast-food chain.

At the same time, the study — based on a nationally representative sample of 43,995 U.S. adults aged 20 and over — found that seafood consumption stayed about the same. Fewer than 15% of Americans eat the recommended amounts of fish and shellfish. Researchers suggested that this might be due to high retail prices, lack of awareness of the health benefits these foods offer, and concern about mercury contamination in some fish.

In a bit of good news for our collective health, the study noted that we ate less non-processed red meat in 2016 than in 1999 — 284 grams (10 ounces) weekly as opposed to 340 grams (12 ounces). At the same time, poultry consumption increased, from 256 grams (9 ounces) a week when the study began to 303 grams (10.7 ounces) in 2016. Committing to eating less meat is one of the health resolutions doctors want you to keep in 2019.