July 28, 2011

The Evil Hot Dog: Are They As Dangerous As Cigarettes?

One of America's favorite foods, the hot dog, is being labeled by a national medical group as an unhealthy food as dangerous to your health as cigarettes.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine unveiled a billboard at one of America's oldest and most famous racing venues -- The Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- featuring a picture of the iconic meat roll inside a pack of cigarettes emblazoned with a skull and crossbones. The picture comes with a shocking advisory: "Warning: Hot dogs can wreck your health."

Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., the committee's nutrition education director, said that hot dogs, like cigarettes, should come with a "warning label that helps racing fans and other consumers understand the health risk."

The group is trying to create awareness of a link between hot dogs and colorectal cancer.

In a 2007 study by the World Cancer Research Fund, it was found that one 50 gram serving of processed meat each day, about the same amount found in one hot dog, increases the risk of colorectal cancer by nearly 12 percent.

"A hot dog a day could send you to an early grave," said Levin.

Every year, about 143,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and approximately 53,000 die of it.

Processed meats have also been linked to other types of cancer. An NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study found that processed red meat was associated with a 10 percent rise in the risk of prostate cancer with every 10 grams of increased consumption.

A Taiwanese study showed that consumption of cured and smoked meat can increase children's risk of leukemia. And an Australian study found that women's risk of ovarian cancer increased as a result of consuming processed meats.

A review published in the journal Diabetologia found that those who regularly eat processed meats increase their risk of diabetes by 41 percent.

But some health experts disagree with the medical group's advisory.

Although hot dogs are not a health food, they are also not toxic if consumed in moderation, such experts say.

"It is not necessary to eliminate consumption of red or processed meat; rather the message is that these foods should not be the mainstay of your diet," the American Cancer Society guidelines state.

Hot dogs are low in nutritional content and value, said Dr. Jesse Spear, an internal medicine physician with St. Vincent Medical Group in Fishers, Indiana. They are loaded with sodium, which can lead to hypertension and heart disease.

But should we avoid them altogether?

Spear says no. Instead, he advises patients to eat a general healthy diet --- more fruits and veggies, and less processed meats.

"I don't personally tell people never to eat hot dogs, because I guess I'm just realistic enough to know that people will still consume them to some degree," Spear told USA Today.

July is National Hot Dog Month and July 28th is National Chili Dog Day. Considering more than 1.1 million hot dogs were sold at last year's Indianapolis 500, the medical group saw fit to throw up a billboard and target race fans at the upcoming Brickyard 400 NASCAR race at the famed track.


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