Are hot dogs a political issue? Surprisingly so.
On Monday July 25, my non-profit organization, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, erected a billboard outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The picture was stark — a cigarette pack emblazoned with a skull and crossbones. But sticking out of the pack were not cigarettes — instead there were hot dogs. The message said “WARNING: Hot dogs can wreck your health.”
The issue is cancer. Every year, about 143,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and more than 50,000 die of the disease. About half of all cases are already incurable when found. The U.S. Government and other entities have poured millions of dollars into the search for the cause. But one of the causes they found turned out to be too hot for the government to handle.
It’s the ordinary hot dog. At least 58 scientific studies have looked at the issue, and the jury has rendered its verdict, which is now beyond reasonable doubt. The more hot dogs people eat, the higher their risk of colorectal cancer. And it’s not just hot dogs. Any sort of processed meat — bacon, sausage, ham, deli slices — is in this group. And here are the numbers: Every 50 grams of processed meat you eat on a daily basis (that’s about one hot dog) increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent. And just as there is no safe level of smoking, no amount of hot dogs, bacon, sausage, ham or other processed meats comes out clean in scientific studies.
The problem goes beyond colorectal cancer. An NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study found a 10 percent increased risk of prostate cancer for every 10 grams of increased intake of processed meats. Other studies have linked these same products to leukemia and ovarian cancer. Exactly how processed meats do their dirty work is not clear; it could be their nitrites, saturated fat or other ingredients.
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