Everyone Else Is Wrong, Bacon Won't Kill You

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Is bacon dangerous?

Short answer: not really. Long answer: it depends on your definition of “dangerous”. On Monday, the World Health Organisation released a report that concludes that eating processed meat including bacon, ham and hot dogs increases your risk of cancer, and that eating other red meat “probably” increases the risk as well. But, as the Daily Mail has spent the last decade establishing, almost everything affects your risk of cancer one way or the other. So the real question is, how much does it increase the risk? And the answer is… not much.

A lot’s been made of the fact that processed meat is now included in the WHO’s Category 1 list of carcinogens, right next to smoking, plutonium and diesel exhaust fumes. But the WHO (unlike certain news organisations) is careful to point out that this doesn’t mean they’re all equally dangerous. “The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk,” said a statement accompanying the research.

So what’s the level of risk?

Well, you might have read that processed meat increases your risk of colorectal cancer “by 18%” but that only matters if you know what your risk was in the first place. So here’s the simple version: as a normal human adult man, the chance of getting colorectal cancer (the one the study’s talking about) is about 5 in 1,000. That “18%” increases the 5 in 1,000 to almost 6 in 1,000, or, as non-scientists might describe it, “Not really enough to worry about”. Also, bear in mind that those were observational findings (ie based on asking people what they ate, so possibly not that accurate) and based on someone eating 50g of processed meat (basically, a bacon sandwich) every single day.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re the government, this is worth considering, because over your entire population it’s going to cause a reasonable amount of cancer. If you're a man who normally stays quite healthy but occasionally fancies a filthy takeaway hotdog, it probably shouldn’t make you change your habits. Should you eat bacon every day? Possibly not: it’s relatively high in calories, which might work out badly for you for other reasons. But the real advice for a healthy life is the same as it always has been: eat as much veg as you can stand, drink more water and sleep more (the WHO class sleep-disrupting shift work as Category 2, indicating that it’s “probably” carcinogic). So have a lie-in this weekend, and don’t worry too much about your breakfast.

P.S. Now you can make one of these with a clear conscience.

Joel Snape

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.