Processed Meat Linked to Diabetes in Native Americans

The Physicians Committee

Processed Meat Linked to Diabetes in Native Americans

February 15, 2012

Processed meat consumption increases Native Americans’ risk of diabetes, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers followed more than 2,000 Native Americans living in the Southwestern United States. All were free of diabetes at the beginning of the study, but those who ate processed meat (e.g., sausage, bacon) were more likely to develop diabetes over a five-year period. The association was particularly strong with Spam.

Fifty percent of Native Americans develop diabetes by 55 years of age. Many have limited access to healthful foods, and may depend on the USDA commodity program, which includes processed meats.

Processed meat consumption has also been linked to certain cancers, which disproportionally impact Native Americans.

Processed meats are high in fat. Earlier studies have shown that fat accumulation within muscle cells leads to insulin resistance, which, in turn, contributes to diabetes. People who eat no animal products have less fat in their cells and much less risk of developing diabetes. A low-fat plant-based diet has been shown to improve type 2 diabetes.

PCRM has developed a six-session diabetes education and cooking skills curriculum for Native American communities that has been successfully piloted in New Mexico and Arizona, and was presented in an educational session at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. The curriculum may be viewed and downloaded at no cost from

Fretts AM, Howard BV, McKnight B, et al. Associations of processed meat and unprocessed red meat intake with incident diabetes: the Strong Heart Family Study. Am J Clin Nutr. Published ahead of print Jan 25, 2012.

Giovannucci E, Harlan DM, Archer MC, et al. Diabetes and cancer: a consensus report. CA Cancer J Clin. 2010;60;207-221.

Goff LM, Bell JD, So PW, Dornhorst A, Frost GS. Veganism and its relationship with insulin resistance and intramyocellular lipid. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59:291-298.

Barnard ND, Cohen J, Jenkins DJ, et al. A low-fat vegan diet and a conventional diabetes diet in the treatment of type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled, 74-week clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89:1588S-1596S.

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