At a small food shop in Phnom Penh recently, customers crowded in, eating hotdogs and meatballs. These kinds of processed meats are widely popular in Cambodia, and business was brisk. Few here seem to be concerned by new warnings from the World Health Organization that processed meats can increase the odds of cancer.
Sun Sonita, a sixth-year-medical student, eats processed meat often. “As a medical student, basically I know that in the processes of making processed meat, some chemical substances must be put in to preserve the food,” she said. “But it is delicious and convenient to find.”
Im Yanuth, 18, a high school graduate, told VOA Khmer that she often consumes hot dogs and meatballs, as often as once a week, spending around 20,000 to 30,000 riels per meal. “I do not think much about the effects, because it is delicious, so I do not care,” she said.
Processed meat is made through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking and other preservation methods. Some methods include added chemicals. The WHO said in a report in October that the consumption of 50 grams of processed meat per day can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Many in Cambodia, however, remain unconcerned.
“I myself eat it every day, but I am still fine,” said Somali, a 32-year-old vendor of processed meat. Her best-selling products are hot dogs, including “cheese hot dogs,” she said.
Hul Seingheng, a Cambodian chemical engineering researcher, supports the WHO findings. Processed meats can be unhealthy, he said, “but the body needs protein, so people should eat fish, because its meat is healthy.”
Ly Chenghuy, director of HealthCambodia.com, said the WHO report is useful. Red meat or processed meat can be harmful, he said. So can the cooking process itself, including grilling or frying, which creates potentially harmful smoke.
According to government statistics for 2015, there were 8,566 cases of cancer, including 122 deaths.
Or Vandine, director general of health at the Ministry of Health, told VOA Khmer that the WHO report should be taken as a warning by the public. But the report also could have reported more details on meat consumption and cancer risks.
For Cambodians who love meat, experts advise cutting back consumption to less than 70 grams per day. “Remember to switch to vegetables or fruit after people exceed the amount of healthy consumption,” Or Vandine said.
Other health advice includes not smoking or drinking, eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more water.