Update: On Feb. 24, 2023, a Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine dietitian wrote to the president of The Queen’s Health System in Honolulu, Hawaii, asking officials there to opt out of sponsoring the Waikiki Spam Jam Festival again this year. On March 1, 2023, a representative from the health system responded saying the organization is not a 2023 sponsor. A Physicians Committee dietitian has reached out to the health system to offer free Healthy Hospital Program resources, which include ways to eliminate processed meat from patient menus.
HONOLULU, Hawaii — The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, D.C.-based national health advocacy organization, is appealing to Hawaii’s largest private health care system asking its leadership to stop sponsoring a festival celebrating the processed meat Spam.
In 2022, The Queen’s Health System in Honolulu was listed as a sponsor on the Waikiki Spam Jam Festival’s website. This year’s event will reportedly feature three entertainment stages, 20 restaurants serving Spam, and the sale of Spam-related merchandise.
In a Feb. 24, 2023 letter to Dr. Jill Hoggard Green, president and chief executive officer of The Queen’s Health System, Physicians Committee Registered Dietitian Stephanie McBurnett pointed out that the World Health Organization has classified processed meats, like Spam, a group 1 carcinogen.
“This is the same category as asbestos and tobacco,” McBurnett wrote in the letter, “making it a major contributor to the development of cancer.”
Dr. Grace O’Neil, an emergency medicine physician in Honolulu and member of the Physicians Committee, is also urging The Queen’s Health System to opt out of the sponsorship this year.
Dr. O’Neil, who is also board certified in lifestyle medicine, said she has seen patients come into the emergency room for years with the same chronic medical problems that never seem to improve. But through lifestyle medicine, which includes managing diet, movement, and stress, she’s seen patients transform their lives.
“Processed meats and red meats cause cancer,” Dr. O’Neil said, “and their consumption should certainly not be celebrated by a hospital system. For people who have developed a taste for processed meats, there are many plant-based substitutes that are not only less damaging to our environment, but also less harmful to our health.”
In an expert report published in The Lancet Oncology, scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer examined more than 800 studies on the relationship between red and processed meats and cancer. The meta-analysis found a dose-response, statistically significant relationship between processed meat and colorectal cancer. For every 50 grams consumed per day, cancer risk increased by 18%. This led the working group to conclude that processed meats are carcinogenic to humans based on sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer.
According to the State of Hawaii, Department of Health, colon cancer is the second leading cancer killer in Hawaii with 700 men and women being diagnosed with it and 225 people dying from it each year.
What’s more, a review in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that not only colorectal cancer, but also prostate, pancreatic, and breast cancers were strongly linked to processed meat consumption.
Additionally, evidence shows a strong relationship to heart disease. Just 150 grams a week of processed meat is linked with a 46% increased risk of heart disease and a 51% increased risk of death.
The American Medical Association has called on hospitals to eliminate processed meats from menus and provide healing, plant-based options to patients. Hospitals across the country are changing their menus to promote health and align with the AMA’s resolution.
Plant-based diets can help prevent and even reverse heart disease. A landmark 1990 study by Dean Ornish, MD, tested the effects of a plant-based diet and lifestyle intervention on participants with moderate to severe heart disease. There were no surgeries or stents — just simple diet and lifestyle changes. Within weeks, 90% of participants’ chest pain diminished. After just one month, blood flow to the heart improved. After a year, even severely blocked arteries had reopened.
“As your health system considers sponsorship of this year’s Spam Jam Festival,” McBurnett wrote in the letter to The Queen’s Health System president, “I ask you to think about the message that kind of support would send to your community. Hospitals should lead by example by serving the healthiest foods, educating the public about good nutrition, and avoiding funding events that perpetuate poor health outcomes.”
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.