August 27, 2008

In This Season of Attack Ads, Hot Dogs Are Feeling the Heat


By Lindsey Tanner

The Associated Press


A new TV commercial shows children eating hot dogs in a school cafeteria and one boy's lament: "I was dumbfounded when the doctor told me I have late-stage colon cancer."

It's a startling revelation in an ad that vilifies one of America's most beloved, if maligned, foods, while stoking fears about a dreaded disease.

But the boy doesn't have cancer. Neither do two other children in the ad who claim to be afflicted.

The commercial's pro-vegetarian sponsor, a group called The Cancer Project, says it's a dramatization that highlights research linking processed meats, including hot dogs, with higher odds of getting colon cancer.

But that connection is based on studies of adults, not children, and the increased risk reportedly is slight .

So what exactly is the truth about hot dogs?

The 33-second ad launched last month in several U.S. cities provides the perfect opportunity to separate fact from fiction about this familiar product.

The bottom line from several nutritionists familiar with the ad is this: Hot dogs aren't exactly a "health food," but eating one every now and then probably won't hurt you.

"My concern about this campaign is it's giving the indication that the occasional hot dog in the school lunch is going to increase cancer risk," said Colleen Doyle, the American Cancer Society's nutrition director. "An occasional hot dog isn't going to increase that risk."

As a whole, Americans eat hot dogs more than occasionally. According to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, U.S. consumers bought more than 1.5 billion pounds of hot dogs and sausages at retail stores alone.

The health concerns primarily come from their high fat and salt content and sodium nitrate and nitrite, commonly added preservatives and color-enhancers. Nitrate-related substances have been reported to cause cancer in animals, but there's no proof they do so in people.

Hot dogs typically contain muscle meat trimmings from pork or beef. Contrary to legend, they do not contain eyeballs, hooves or genitals, according to the Hot Dog Council's Janet Riley. But the government allows them to contain pig snouts and stomachs, cow lips and livers, goat gullets and lamb spleens. If they have these byproducts, the label should spell out which ones, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said.

Some also are made with leaner meats, including turkey, as well as tofu or soy protein.

Check the label of a name-brand hot dog, and chances are fat provides around 80 percent of total calories, more than double what's often advised. What's more, saturated fat and trans fat - the fats most strongly linked with artery-clogging - are common ingredients, in some cases providing at least half the fat content.

The hot dog council called the new ad an alarmist scare tactic, but The Cancer Project defended the campaign.

Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, called the ad "a way to raise appropriate concern about a deadly concern." He also heads The Cancer Project, an offshoot of his anti-meat advocacy group.

The new ad is based on an analysis of five studies in adults by scientists working with cancer research groups not affiliated with Barnard's.

biting off trouble?

A new TV ad - an image from which is seen above - vilifies hot dogs and links them to childhood cancer. Nutritionists say, however, that there is no evidence an occasional frank will raise cancer risks.

Originally published by BY LINDSEY TANNER.

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