After WHO cancer findings, 61% of MaltaToday survey respondents say they will cut down on processed meats

Are your salami days counted? Has your supermarket trolley sped past the delicatessen counter? JAMES DEBONO polled the public on its reaction to the WHO warning on processed meat and its carinogenic effects.


Has this been struck off your diet?
Has this been struck off your diet?

A MaltaToday survey shows that 61% of respondents intend to cut down on processed foods like ham, bacon and sausages following a World Health Organisation report linking regular eating of processed meats to colorectal cancer.

The survey showed widespread awareness among the Maltese population of the WHO survey, with 97% claiming that they had heard about the report.

An international panel of experts convened by the World Health Organisation concluded that eating processed meat raises the risk of colon cancer and that consuming other red meats “probably” raises the risk as well.

According to the report, 50g of processed meat a day – less than two slices of bacon – increased the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. WHO has not asked people to stop eating processed meats but has recommended that people eat less of it to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

A MaltaToday survey has found that 29% of Maltese men and 19% of females are consuming processed meats on a daily basis.

Apart from eating less processed foods, females are more intent on cutting down on processed meats like ham, sausages, salamis, bacon and corned beef. While 57% of males intend cutting down on processed meats, the percentage is 10 points higher among females. 

The same survey also showed males and middle-aged respondents consuming more processed meats than females and older respondents. But the survey shows that cheese beats processed meats as the most popular ingredient in toasts and sandwiches. Moreover chicken, pasta and vegetable soups are more popular than both red or processed meats.

Men’s eating habits put them at peril

The survey clearly shows that males could be at greater risk of developing colon cancer because of their eating habits.

When asked whether they had consumed any processed meats the previous day, only a third of women interviewed replied in the affirmative, while nearly half of the males interviewed did likewise.

When asked about the frequency of their consumption of processed meats 29% of males compared to 19% of females replied that they do so on a daily basis. Moreover while 5% of females consume processed meats every two days, 11% of males do the same. While 19% of females never consume processed meats only 9% of males exclude processed meats from their life. 

Males are also more likely to consume red meat on a daily basis – 8% of males compared to 2% of females. The survey shows that nearly 40% of women compared to just 27% of males consume meat at a frequency of less than once a week.

Moreover when asked what they had eaten the day before 21% of males mentioned red meat while only 5% of females did so. Females are more likely to eat chicken, pasta and vegetables than men.

In fact while red meat was the most mentioned food item among males, chicken was the most popular item among women. 

When asked about the ingredients in the last sandwich or toast they had eaten, males were more likely to have eaten their bread with ham, luncheon meat or bacon than females.

Bad habits in middle age 

The survey suggests that older people are more careful about what they are eating than other categories. In fact, when asked whether they had consumed processed meats the day before only 30% of over 55 year olds replied in the affirmative, the percentage is 10 points higher among under-35 year olds and nearly 20 points higher among 35 to 54 year olds.

The survey suggests that the most at risk category is the middle-aged bracket, which is most likely to consume processed meats. The survey suggests that younger people and older people are more careful on what they are eating.

Maltese eating less corned beef

A legacy of a war ration diet, which turned tinned, preserved “corned beef” into a staple food alongside Cheddar cheese and tinned milk sees two thirds of the population still consuming these at least occasionally. Pervading many now traditional Maltese recipes like baked rice and pasta, corned beef may well have become a tradition in its own right. But it may well be that this colonial legacy is now in decline.

The survey shows that since 2009 there has been a drastic decrease in the consumption of corned beef, a processed food that became popular as a substitute for fresh meat in the Second World War. 

Consumption of corned beef dropped drastically by 24 points since 2009, in a survey held at the peak of the economic recession. The percentage of those who shun corned beef completely has gone up by 11 points in the past six years.

This may suggest both heightened health awareness in the wake of the WHO report and an improvement in living standards. Surprisingly the survey shows DE (the lowest income group) consuming less corned beef than C2s (skilled workers).

The survey showed that while none of those in the AB (professional/managerial job) category consume corned beef on a regular basis, the percentage is 15% among skilled workers and 13% among unskilled workers and recipients of social security. Nearly half of ABs do not consume any corned beef compared to 19% of C2s. 

But ABs do not shun other processed meats, in the way they shun corned beef, and their purchases could well include priced cuts from the delicatessen counter. 

In fact ABs are more likely to consume processed meats than C1s (a category which includes clerical, supervisory and vocational occupations). In fact consumption of processed meats was lowest among the latter category and highest among C2s. Once again C2s were more likely to consume processed meats than DEs. This could be an indication of a lower disposable income among the latter.

More in Data & Surveys