Harvard Study – One Third of Early Deaths Avoided if We Gave Up Meat

Sarah Knapton, Science Editor of the Telegraph reported on the Harvard Study which considers that at least one-third of early deaths could be prevented if everyone moved to a vegetarian diet (not even a WFPBD). The following is a summary of the article1 entitled “Third of early deaths could be prevented by everyone giving up meat, Harvard study finds” in the Science section of the Telegraph 26 APRIL 2018.

Dr Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard Medical School, speaking at the Fourth International Vatican Conference, Unite to Cure: A Global Health Care Initiative said: (( The Fourth International Vatican Conference, Unite to Cure: A Global Health Care Initiative )) “We have just been doing some calculations looking at the question of how much could we reduce mortality shifting towards a healthy, more plant based diet, not necessarily totally vegan, and our estimates are about one third of deaths could be prevented.  That’s not even talking about physical activity or not smoking, and that’s all deaths, not just cancer deaths. That’s probably an underestimate as well as that doesn’t take into account the fact that obesity is important and we control for obesity. When we start to look at it we see that healthy diet is related to a lower risk of almost everything that we look at. Perhaps not too surprising because everything in the body is connected by the same underlying processes.

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (( Office for National statistics: Statistical bulletin: Deaths registered in England and Wales (Series DR): 2013 )) suggested that around 24 per cent or 141,000 deaths each year in Britain were preventable, but most of that was due to smoking, alcohol or obesity.  But the new figures from Harvard suggest that at least 200,000 lives could be saved each year if people cut meat from their diets.

Also speaking at the conference, Dr Neal Barnard 2  said that people need to wake up to the health benefits of vegetarianism and veganism. He continued: “I think people imagine that a healthy diet has only a modest effect and a vegetarian diet might help you lose a little bit of weight. But when these diets are properly constructed I think they are enormously powerful…A low-fat vegan diet is better than any other diet I have ever seen for improving diabetes…With regards to inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis we are seeing tremendous potential there too. Partly because of things we are avoiding and cholesterol but also because of the magical things that are in vegetables and fruits which just aren’t in spam.

British-born Professor David Jenkins3 , of the University of Toronto, who is credited with developing the glycaemic index 4 also told the conference that the benefits of vegetarianism had been ‘undersold.’  Dr Jenkins said humans would do better following a “simian” diet, similar to lowland gorillas who eat stems, leaves, vines and fruits rather than a “paleo” or caveman diet, which cuts carbohydrates but allows meat.

His team recently teamed up with The Bronx Zoo in New York and travelled to central Africa to record the feeding habits of gorillas.  When they recreated the diet for humans – which amounted to 63 servings of fruit and vegetables a day – they found a 35 per cent fall in cholesterol, in just two weeks, the equivalent of taking statins.  Around 17.5 million people eligible for statins to stave off heart disease, equating to most men over 60 and most women over 65. But many complain of side effects and stop taking the drugs.  Dr Jenkins added: “We’re saying you’ve got a choice, you can change your diet to therapeutically meaningful change or you can take a statin. Drug or diet.”

  1. Third of early deaths could be prevented by everyone giving up meat, Harvard study finds []
  2. Dr Neal Barnard. Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. []
  3. David J Jenkins. Wikipedia. []
  4. Am J Clin Nutr. 1981 Mar;34(3):362-6. Glycemic index of foods: a physiological basis for carbohydrate exchange. Jenkins DJ, Wolever TM, Taylor RH, Barker H, Fielden H, Baldwin JM, Bowling AC, Newman HC, Jenkins AL, Goff DV. []