HealthDay News — For U.S. adults, increasing red meat consumption is associated with a subsequent increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Our results confirm the robustness of the association between red meat and type 2 diabetes mellitus and add further evidence that limiting red meat consumption over time confers benefits for type 2 diabetes mellitus prevention,” An Pan, PhD, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues concluded, though acknowledging that causal links can’t be drawn from observational data.

The researchers examined the correlation between changes in red meat consumption during a four-year period and the subsequent risk of T2DM among US adults. Participants included 26,357 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, 48,709 women in the Nurses’ Health Study, and 74,077 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Validated food frequency questionnaires were used to assess diet, and were updated every four years.

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After multivariate adjustment, the researchers found that, in each cohort, increasing red meat intake during a four-year interval correlated with an increased risk of T2DM during the subsequent four years. Individuals who added more than half a serving a day of red meat to their diet saw their risk of type 2 diabetes onset over the next four years increase by 48% compared with those with unchanged intake.

On the other hand, reducing red meat consumption by more than 0.50 servings per day in the first four years correlated with a 14% reduction in risk during the entire 12-16 year follow-up period.

The risk association was even greater for individuals who increased their red meat intake from a moderate level (two to six servings per week) to a high level (seven or more).  In such cases, chances of T2DM onset rose 87%. 

Overall, staying at a low intake, defined as two or less servings per week, proved to be the healthiest path.  Compared to those who stayed at a low intake, individuals who stayed at moderate intake had a 37% higher risk of T2DM onset, whereas those who stayed at a high intake were more than two times as likely to get T2DM.

These figures were less exaggerated when limited to obese participants, although researchers surmised that, since obesity already leads to a high risk of T2DM, dietary changes would have less of an impact in these cases.

While the researchers ceded that the study may be limited by the demographics of the participants, who were primarily white and well-educated, they also noted the real world applicability of their work.

“Our analysis approach is, to some extent, a natural experiment, in which individuals choose to change their diet and lifestyles without investigator-initiated interventions,” they said, “and thus the results may be more externally generalizable to the real world compared with a well-controlled laboratory setting.”


  1. Pan A et al. JAMA Intern Medicine 2013; doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6633.