A new study reveals American Indian who frequently ate processed meat in a can, known as "spam," had double the risk of developing diabetes compared to those who ate little to none, reported Reuters.
Processed, canned meat is a food subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food assistance program that is commonly found on reservations.
Researchers surveyed 2,000 American Indians with an average age of 35 from Arizona, Oklahoma and North and South Dakota to examine potential causes of the high rate of the disease. "Fifty percent of American Indians develop diabetes by age 55," the abstract states.
All participants were free of diabetes and cardiovascular disease at the start of the study when they answered questions about diet and other health and lifestyle factors. Five years later, the researchers conducted a follow-up survey; 243 people had developed diabetes.
"A lot of communities in this study are in very rural areas with limited access to grocery stores... and they want to eat foods that have a long shelf life," said Amanda Fretts, the lead author and a researcher at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who grew up on a reservation near the Arctic Circle. The findings were recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Of the 500 who ate the most spam, 85 developed the disease. Of the 500 people who ate the least amount of spam, 44 developed the disease. The research team found that unprocessed red meat did not have the same relationship with diabetes.
"I think what this study indicates is processed meats should be a priority for reduction (in the diet), especially among American Indians where they can go to food assistance programs and they can get discounted spam," said Dariush Mozaffarian, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who was not involved in the study.
Two years ago, Mozaffarian and his colleagues conducted another study that similarly found processed meats were linked to a 19 percent higher diabetes risk, whereas unprocessed meats had no effect. "I think the biggest difference between processed and unprocessed meats is sodium," he said, clarifying that scientists have reached no clear explanation for the connection between spam and diabetes.
Fretts and her colleagues also noted that people who ate the most processed meats had larger waistlines and were generally heavier. These observations give backbone to the assumption that processed meats contribute to obesity, a common risk factor for diabetes.