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Association between red and processed meat consumption and chronic diseases: the confounding role of other dietary factors



High consumption of meat has been linked with the risk for obesity and chronic diseases. This could partly be explained by the association between meat and lower-quality diet. We studied whether high intake of red and processed meat was associated with lower-quality dietary habits, assessed against selected nutrients, other food groups and total diet. Moreover, we studied whether meat consumption was associated with obesity, after adjustment for all identified associations between meat and food consumption.


The nationally representative cross-sectional study population consisted of 2190 Finnish men and 2530 women, aged 25–74 years. Food consumption over the previous 12 months was assessed using a validated 131-item Food Frequency Questionnaire. Associations between nutrients, foods, a modified Baltic Sea Diet Score and meat consumption (quintile classification) were analysed using linear regression. The models were adjusted for age and energy intake and additionally for education, physical activity and smoking.


High consumption of red and processed meat was inversely associated with fruits, whole grain and nuts, and positively with potatoes, oil and coffee in both sexes. Results separately for the two types of meat were essentially similar. In a linear regression analysis, high consumption of meat was positively associated with body mass index in both men and women, even when using a model adjusted for all foods with a significant association with meat consumption in both sexes identified in this study.


The association between meat consumption and a lower-quality diet may complicate studies on meat and health.

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The study was supported by the Academy of Finland (grants 136895 and 263836).

Author Contributions

MF and SM designed research; NK analyzed data; all the authors wrote the paper; and MF had primary responsibility for the final content.

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Correspondence to M Fogelholm.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on European Journal of Clinical Nutrition website

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Fogelholm, M., Kanerva, N. & Männistö, S. Association between red and processed meat consumption and chronic diseases: the confounding role of other dietary factors. Eur J Clin Nutr 69, 1060–1065 (2015).

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