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Danger Dogs- Are hot dogs really as bad as cigarettes?

I turned on the news this morning to find the “big breaking” story was that researchers recently found health risks associated with eating hot dogs. My first knee jerk reaction to the news definitely had a twinge of sarcasm, since I’m pretty sure most people realize that hot dogs don’t exactly top the list of recommended health foods.  

It’s old news that processed meats (e.g. hot dogs, bacon and sausage) are linked to diabetes and heart disease. In fact, over 1,600 separate studies showed evidence that each 1.8 oz serving of processed meat – the equivalent of one hot dog – increases the risk of heart disease by 42% and diabetes by 19%. So I assumed the story about hot dogs was going to just be an old story with a new twist. Boy was I wrong.

The story wasn’t about diabetes or heart disease; it was about cancer.

I find the debate surrounding this hot topic so interesting, I want to share the facts with you and ask you to share your opinions.

Here’s the story, from a few different sides…

A watchdog group, known as the Cancer Project, is bringing attention to the correlation between hot dogs and colorectal cancer. The group warned that, “downing one dog a day can increase the risk for colorectal cancer by 21%. Each year, about 143,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and about 53,000 die of it.”

“We’ve had an epidemic of colorectal cancer for decades,” said the group’s president, Dr. Neal Barnard. “Only fairly recently has it become clear that a big part of the reason is the American appetite for hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and other processed meats”

The group, which promotes vegan diets, thinks that the link between hot dogs and cancer, heart disease and diabetes should be taken more seriously. “Like cigarettes, hot dogs should come with a warning label that helps racing fans and other consumers understand the health risk.”  They erected the billboard (below) near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, issuing a stark warning to the legions of weiner lovers who show up for races.

As you can imagine, the group’s billboard and statements have not been well-received by the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council. The Council president, Janet Riley, said, “This is an absurd claim. Trying to link a food product that has clear nutritional value with a product like cigarettes, which have no redeeming qualities, is inflammatory and alarmist.”

Now, before you’re quick to dismiss the relevancy of the research, because of the “dog a day” specification, think about this…

In 2006, Americans consumed more than 1.6 billion pounds of hot dogs. That’s a lot of dogs! The average person eats 32 pounds of some form of smoked ham, bacon, or processed pork.  That equals about 1.4 ounces of processed meat a day. An average hot dog is 1.8 ounces. The warning about eating a “hot dog a day” for 63% of Americans is actually pretty relevant!

Apart from backyard BBQs, street vendors, ballparks, and other sporting events, when I think about hot dogs, I think about our kids. I’ve heard several moms say that they feed their kids “dogs”, because it’s all that they’ll eat.

Well, the debate about the dangers of eating hot dogs also extends to our children. Parents are also being warned about the perils of feeding their children hot dogs for two major reasons.

First, research has proven that children from birth to age 10 that eat more than 12 hot dogs per month have 9 x the normal risk of developing childhood leukemia.  Even eating hot dogs 1- 2 x per week while pregnant can increase the baby’s risk of brain cancer.

Second, hot dogs are a significant choking hazard. About 17% of food-related asphyxiations are caused by hot dogs. More than 10,000 children under 14 go to the emergency room each year after choking on food, and up to 77 die.

“If you were to take the best engineers in the world and try to design the perfect plug for a child’s airway, it would be a hot dog,” says statement author Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “I’m a pediatric emergency doctor, and to try to get them out once they’re wedged in, it’s almost impossible.”

Dr. Smith goes on to state that, “The Consumer Product Safety Commission requires labels on toys with small parts alerting people not to give them to kids under 3. Yet there are no required warnings on food, though more than half of non-fatal choking episodes involve food.”

Janet Riley, the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council president, which thinks comparing hot dogs to cigarettes is “absurd”, does supports the American Academy of Pediatrics’ call to better educate parents and caregivers about choking prevention. “Ensuring the safety of the foods we service to children is critically important for us.”

Now that you’ve got a feel for the argument about hot dogs from a few different perspectives, I want to know what you think. Do you think hot dogs are dangerous, and those containing nitrites should have health warnings?  What about choking warnings, should they be mandatory?

I do believe, label or not, that moderation is key to living a healthy lifestyle. Achieving good health requires “big picture planning”. You must consider what you purchase for your home (e.g. convenience foods), at fast food places, at restaurants, and what you eat at social gatherings. Whether you decide to eliminate processed meat (e.g. hot dogs) completely, or decide to decrease your intake slowly each week, you have to create a plan.  Your plan has to fit your budget, lifestyle, beliefs, and ultimately lead you towards living a healthier lifestyle.


Need help with your “big picture plan” to wean  off of processed food? The Skinny Gene Project can help. The nutrition team will provide you with the resources you need to make live a healthier lifestyle. Just click here to get started.


: My name is Marlayna. I’ve recently shared my story about why I chose to LIVE MY LIFE WITH INTENTION- my life’s journey towards becoming who I am today (click here to read it). I’m a mother, wife, friend, and a diabetes prevention advocate. I occassionally blog about living a healthy lifestyle.

 * The opinions represented in this post are my own, and do not express those of the Skinny Gene Project or J. Moss Foundation

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