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Claim that high protein diets are as bad as smoking dismissed as 'PR hype'

The NHS has released a detail take-down of the claim that appeared in news reports earlier this week.

Image: meat via Shutterstock

THE UK’S NATIONAL Health Service (NHS) has rubbished reports that a diet high in protein is as bad as smoking, saying that it appeared to be a “triumph of PR spin”.

The findings of the study, carried out by he University of Southern California, presented a link between a high protein diet and a higher risk of death among those aged between 50 and 65.

The Guardian carried the story on its frontpage under the headline ‘Meat-rich diet may be as harmful as smoking’, while the Daily Telegraph, The Independent, and other news outlets both reported the study under similar headlines.

‘Unhelpful’

However, the NHS said that the claim that this diet is ‘as dangerous as smoking’ is unsupported, and describes it as an ‘unhelpful’ comparison as smoking is not a necessary part of people’s diets.

“To be fair to the UK’s journalists, this comparison was raised in a press release, issued by the University of Southern California”, a report on the NHS’s website reads.

“Unfortunately this PR hype appears to have been taken at face value.”

The NHS has noted that this wasn’t a specific finding of the report, saying that ‘overall’ the study did not show an association between ‘protein intake and any cause of death’, although higher levels of the substance in the participants’ diets was linked to complications relating to diabetes.

Larger study

1 per cent of those involved in the study died from diabetes, with the authors noting that it must be confirmed in a larger study.

“The researchers found that results for death from any cause and from cancer seemed to vary with age”, the NHS said.

“Among those aged 50-65, those who ate a high protein diet were 74% more likely to die during follow up than those who ate a low protein diet [...] People in this age group who ate a high protein diet were more than four times as likely to die from cancer during follow up than those who ate a low protein diet.”

The results were similar once the researchers took into account the proportion of calories consumed from fat and carbohydrates.

The NHS highlights that the study included a low number of people with a low protein diet, and also that other lifestyle factors were left out.

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Nicky Ryan

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