Women eating the most processed meat were 25 percent more likely to die early than those eating the least of this type of meat, while men had a 16 percent increased risk, the study found.
Causes of death for those in the study included diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, ulcers, pneumonia, influenza, liver disease, HIV, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more.
Dying from cancer also was more likely among those eating the most red meat: 22 percent higher for men, 20 percent for women. The risk for death from cancer increased 12 percent for men and 11 percent for women who ate the greatest amount of processed meat.
Similarly, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was higher by 27 percent for men and 50 percent for women; for processed red meat, the risk was 9 percent higher for men and 38 percent higher for women.
However, people who ate the most white meat showed a lower risk of dying.
The authors also noted a 24 percent higher risk of dying from heart problems among men who had never smoked and who ate more white meat. Women faced a 20 percent higher risk.
Meat contains many carcinogens as well as saturated fat, which might explain the increased mortality risk, the authors stated.
Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La., described the study's findings as "provocative."
"The question is how much of it is the meat and how much is the extra calories," Brooks said. "Calories per se are a strong determinant for death from cancer and heart disease. This should make us think about our calorie intake."
The American Dietetic Association has more on healthy eating.
SOURCES: Rashmi Sinha, Ph.D., senior investigator, nutrition epidemiological branch, division of cancer epidemiology and genetics, U.S. National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md.; Michael Thun, M.D., vice president emeritus, epidemiology and surveillance research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Jay Brooks, M.D., chairman, hematology/oncology, Ochsner Health System, Baton Rouge, La.; March 23, 2009, statement, American Meat Institute, Washington, D.C.; March 23, 2009, Archives of Internal Medicine