How unhealthy is red meat? And how beneficial is it to eat vegetables?
The research summary is a brief overview of interesting scholarly work.
The big idea
We’ve developed a new method of health risk assessment that our research shows should make it easier for people to determine which health tips to follow and which to ignore. The approach, recently published in the journal Nature Medicine, offers a simple way for policymakers and the general public to assess the strength of the evidence for a given health risk – such as red meat consumption – and the corresponding outcome. – ischemic heart disease – using a one to five star rating system.
The system we have developed is based on several systematic reviews of studies concerning risk factors such as smoking and health problems such as lung cancer. Well-established risk-outcome relationships score three to five stars, while cases where research evidence is lacking or conflicting get one to two stars.
In our analysis, only eight of the 180 pairs we analyzed received the highest rating of five stars, indicating very strong evidence of association. The relationship between smoking and lung cancer, as well as the relationship between systolic hypertension – the higher of two numbers in a blood pressure measurement – and ischemic heart disease were among those eight five-star pairs.
This rating system makes it easy for consumers to identify how harmful or protective a behavior may be and how strong the evidence is for each risk-outcome pair. For example, a consumer who sees a low star rating may use that knowledge to decide to change a habit or health choice.
Additionally, we created a publicly available online visualization tool that displays 50 risk-outcome pairs that we discussed in five articles recently published in Nature Medicine.
Although the visualization tool provides a nuanced understanding of risk across the blood pressure range, the five-star rating indicates that the overall evidence is very strong. As a result, this means that clear guidelines can be given on the importance of blood pressure control.
why is it important
Clear messages and evidence-based advice about healthy behaviors are essential. Yet health advice is often contradictory and difficult to understand.
Currently, most epidemiological analyzes make strong assumptions about the relationships between risks and health outcomes, and study results often disagree about the strength of the relationships between risks and outcomes. It can be confusing for experts and non-experts alike to analyze conflicting strength studies of varying results and determine if a lifestyle change is needed.
That’s where our method comes in: the star-rating system can provide policymakers and consumers with much-needed context before headline-grabbing health advice is dispensed and adopted.
For example, the average risk of ischemic heart disease with a blood pressure of 165 mmHG – or millimeters of mercury, the base unit used to measure pressure – is 4.5 times higher than the risk of disease with a blood pressure of 100mmHG; but this is just an estimate. The relative risk of ischemic heart disease increases more than fourfold in the blood pressure range, and there is inherent uncertainty in the estimate based on the available data. The five-star rating incorporates all of this information and, in this case, means that the relative risk of ischemic heart disease over the entire exposure range increases by at least 85%.
On the other hand, let’s take the example of the consumption of red meat. Consuming just 100 grams of red meat a day – instead of nothing – results in a very modest (12%) increase in the risk of ischemic heart disease. That’s why it only gets a two-star rating, which is a weak association.
People should be well aware of their level of exposure to three- to five-star rated risks, such as systolic blood pressure. By monitoring and keeping their blood pressure as low as possible, a person can significantly reduce the risk of developing ischemic heart disease.
We hope policy makers can use our star rating system to create informed policy recommendations that will have the greatest benefits for human health. We also hope the public can use the assessments and visualization tool as a way to more clearly understand the current level of knowledge for different pairs of health risks and outcomes.
Aleksandr Aravkin, Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics, University of Washington; Christian Razo, postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washingtonand Jeffrey Stanaway, Assistant Professor of Global Health Sciences and Health Metrics, University of Washington
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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