MYTH #5:

Meat-eaters have higher rates of heart and kidney disease, cancer, obesity and osteoporosis than vegetarians.

Such stupendous claims are hard to reconcile with historical and anthropological facts. All of the diseases mentioned are primarily 20th century occurrences, yet people have been eating meat and animal fat for thousands of years. Further, there are several native peoples around the world (the Innu, Masai, Swiss, Greeks, etc.) whose traditional diets are very rich in animal products, but do not suffer from the above-mentioned maladies (18). This shows that other factors besides animal foods are at work in these diseases.

Several studies have supposedly shown that meat consumption is the cause of heart disease, cancer and bone loss, but such studies, honestly evaluated, show no such thing (19). For example, the studies that supposedly proved that meat consumption among the Innuit caused high rates of osteoporosis, failed to note other dietary factors that contributed to bone loss (and to the other chronic diseases listed in myth #5). Things such as refined sugar consumption, alcoholism and a junk food consumption equalled more bone loss were not done with real meat but with fractionated protein powders (20).

Certainly, when protein is consumed in such an unnatural fashion, separated from the fat-soluble nutrients required for its absorption and assimilation, it will lead to problems. Because of this, the current use of fat-free protein powders as "food supplements", and low-fat or non-fat dairy products should be avoided. Trimming off visible fat from meats and removing duck and chicken skin before eating should also be discouraged.
Despite claims that studies have shown that meat consumption increased the risk for heart disease (21), their authors actually found the opposite. For example, in a 1984 analysis of a 1978 study of Seventh Day Adventists (who are largely vegetarian), H. A. Kahn concluded, "Although our results add some substantial facts to the diet-disease question, we recognize how remote they are from establishing, for example, that men who frequently eat meat or women who rarely eat salad are thereby shortening their lives" (21). A similar conclusion was reached by D.A. Snowden (21). Despite these startling admissions, the studies nevertheless concluded the exact opposite and urged people to reduce animal foods from their diets.

Further, both of these studies threw out certain dietary data that clearly showed no connection between eggs, cheese, whole milk, and fat attached to meat (all high fat and cholesterol foods) and heart disease. Statistician Dr. Russel Smith concluded, "In effect the Kahn [and Snowden] study is yet another example of negative results which are massaged and misinterpreted to support the politically correct assertions that vegetarians live longer lives." When all of the data are taken into account, the actual differences of heart disease between vegetarians and non-vegetarians in these studies was less than 1%: hardly a significant amount (22).

It should be noted here that Seventh Day Adventists are often studied in population analyses to prove that a vegetarian diet is healthier and is associated with a lower risk for heart disease and cancer (but see the last paragraph in this section). While it is true that most members of this Christian denomination do not eat meat, they also do not smoke, drink alcohol, or drink coffee or tea, all of which may be factors in promoting cancer and heart disease (23).
The Mormons are a religious group often overlooked in vegetarian studies. Although their Church urges moderation, Mormons do not abstain from meat. Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith, declared a diet devoid of animal products as "not of God." As with the Adventists, Mormons avoid tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. Despite being meat eaters, a study of Utah Mormons showed they had a 22% lower rate for cancer in general and a 34% lower mortality for colon cancer than the US average (24). A study of Puerto Ricans, who eat large amounts of fatty pork, nevertheless revealed very low rates of colon and breast cancer (25). Similar results can be adduced to demonstrate that meat consumption by itself does not correlate with cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, kidney disease, or obesity (26). Obviously, other factors are at work.

It is usually claimed that vegetarians have lower cancer rates than meat-eaters, but a 1994 study of California Seventh Day Adventists (who are largely vegetarian) showed that, while they did have lower rates of some cancers (e.g., breast), they had significantly higher rates of several others (brain, skin, uterine, cervical and ovarian)! (27)