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Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

OPINION: World Health Organization Links Processed Meat to Cancer

That ham sandwich you’re having for lunch may be increasing your chances of cancer, according to the World Health Organization.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) linked processed meats to cancer, alongside fresh meats such as steaks and roasts. According to the report, every 100 grams of red meat consumed per day would increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 17 percent, and every 50 grams of processed meat would increase your risk of colorectal cancer by about 18 percent. For reference, 50 grams of meat is equivalent to only two slices of bacon.

Go ahead, read those last few sentences again.


As a meat lover and someone who regularly eats ham and other meats as part of his lunch, I don’t believe a word of this — it seems more like a headline-grabbing attempt than a legitimate scientific finding. You might dismiss this as fear and denial talking, until you note that this isn’t the first time that an integral part of many people’s diets has been questioned because of a single, slightly worrisome trait. In the early 2000’s, eggs were demonized because of their cholesterol content; even today there are doubts and questions in the minds of the public courtesy of several studies and articles that continue to argue over what benefits or hazards eggs have on health. But to be honest, that’s not even the worst thing.

Never mind whatever consolations the researchers have to offer about how “an occasional bacon sandwich would do little harm” or the math that’s been done on how meat eating would affect a person’s odds. Never mind the fact that cigarette smoking has been shown to cause roughly a million deaths per year worldwide compared with processed meat’s estimated 34,000. Never mind that smoking increases risk of cancer by almost 20 times compared to red meat’s 1.1 times. In fact, let’s step into the shoes of the mainstream media and forget the facts involved with this topic all together — but not to shout “Bravo Sierra”*. Take away the facts on the surface, and you’ll see what this finding really is: the latest episode in the endless series of needlessly sensationalized news streaming out of our speakers 24/7 nowadays.

After all, it’s not like the public ever bothers trying to calm down when they’ve got something to shout about, no matter how large or small. Just remember the public outcry during the coverage of events like #TheDress or the birth of the royal baby. Even if the information that is actually being displayed is harmless, there will always be those who try to twist it out of shape to spook people or insult people, and there will always be those who fall for the trap.

It’s said that history repeats itself, and this is undoubtedly going to happen here. In an age where almost any issue from a politician’s email scandal to the color of a dress can turn into a whirlwind of politics and controversy, the WHO’s statement means one thing: there’s no doubt that meat’s nutrition and effects on health will devolve into another storm of opinions that are brought to us by this season’s monsoon. Dozens upon dozens of doctors, scientists, nutritionists, chemists, and many more numerous and far less qualified ‘-ists’ (for example, opportunistic journalists) will flood the internet with articles about this new hot topic, and all the while the public will be screeching in the background like the crowd in a gladiator arena, cheering on today’s blood sport: the battle to decide ‘the truth’…

…Until the short attention span of the masses is drawn by yet another petty event like a policy change or a celebrity scandal, and the bloodthirsty crowd wanders off towards the fresher wound against humanity so they can shout their lungs out at something else.

All in all, this is little more than a demonstration that the WHO has failed to learn from the past of controversy and confusion surrounding other links between foods and detrimental health effects, or just announcements in general. The researchers might have published their findings with good intentions, but the amount of attention they’ve received will prove to be the exact wrong kind: the kind that is instantly lost when a fresh piece of controversy pops up, leaving the researcher’s findings, for the most part, forgotten.

After all, #TheDress and the royal baby are both old news by now. Soon this story, among many other shocking ones, will probably have been forgotten by next week or so, but the real issue is about more than just food or health. It’s not just about getting the public to pay attention to a news source, but to make sure that the event being covered actually matters.

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About the Contributor
Arthur Wang
Arthur Wang, Reporter
My name’s Arthur, and I’ll graduate in 2018. I’m a member of the debate team and school orchestra. I enjoy video games, various genres of music, and making jokes/humorous insults. I don’t really have a whole lot of favorites as far as music or games, however. Don’t take it personally if I act sarcastic or mock you, it’s just what I do.

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