By JOHN WAYNE FERGUSON The Daily News

Does a new warning putting meats like bacon and hot dogs in the same health classification as cigarettes mean people should drop their favorite foods immediately?

It might be a good idea in the long run to cut back on processed meats, but the excited reaction about the announcement last week could have drowned out the nuance, some health experts say.

“One of the most frustrating things for the scientists that produced this paper, and for people reading, is the ridiculously sensationalized headings that we’re seeing that bacon is as bad as smoking,” said Dr. Doug Paddon-Jones, a professor and researcher in the Department of Nutrition at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “Really, it’s absurd. It’s doing a disservice.”

Last week, the World Health Organization announced hot dogs, bacon, cold cuts and other processed meats increase the risk of colon, stomach and other cancers, and red meat probably contributes to the diseases, too.

The organization’s cancer agency analyzed decades of research on the subject and issued its most definitive statement yet, putting processed meats in the same danger category as smoking and asbestos exposure.

A group of 22 scientists from the organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, evaluated more than 800 studies from several continents about meat and cancer. The studies looked at more than a dozen types of cancer over the past 20 years in populations with diverse diets.

Based on that evaluation, the agency classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans,” noting links in particular to colon cancer. It said red meat contains some important nutrients, but still labeled it “probably carcinogenic,” with links to colon, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

The news about the cancer links reaffirms what health experts have been saying for years about the dangers of processed foods, Paddon-Jones said.

“It shouldn’t be a massive surprise that highly processed foods are not the greatest thing for your diet,” Paddon-Jones said. “Particularly if you’re consuming it in large quantities. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.”

The agency said it did not have enough data to define how much processed meat is too dangerous, but said the risk grows with the amount consumed.

But Paddon-Jones said people shouldn’t take the news as a reason to suddenly and completely change their dieting habits.

Red meat in particular has health benefits that people could suffer from losing if it were cut out entirely.

“You have to take science for what it is,” Paddon-Jones said. “Lean meats and unprocessed meats contribute an awful lot of good nutrients to the diet.”

The health organization classified red meat in a different, lower risk category than processed meats.

What makes sausage-like meat more dangerous are the chemicals released in processing them, including nitrates and nitrites, the cancer agency said.

Health organization researchers defined processed meat as anything transformed to improve its flavor or to preserve it, including sausages, canned meat, beef jerky and anything smoked. They defined red meat as “all types of mammalian muscle meat, such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse and goat.”

The report said grilling, pan-frying or other high-temperature methods of cooking red meat produce the highest amounts of chemicals suspected of causing cancer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or john.ferguson@galvnews.com. Follow him on Twitter, @johnwferguson.