Hot Dog Havoc: Health Risks of Competitive Eating

The celebrated July 4 tradition may encourage risky eating behaviors.

ByABC News
July 3, 2012, 1:25 PM

July 4, 2012— -- The crowd is roaring, your pulse is racing, and all that stands between you and the coveted Mustard Belt are five dozen hot dogs and 20 other hungry contestants.

Such is the challenge that lies before the competitive eaters at Coney Island for the 97th annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition this afternoon. But while they may be focused on the hotdogs that lay before them, some health experts say they should focus as well on the health hazards of their absurd hobby.

This year, they will be putting their bodies on the line as they strive to beat Takeru Kobayashi's current, unofficial world record of 69 hotdogs in 10 minutes, which he set last July 4. It's a physical feat that can leave a competitor weighing 15 pounds more than when he or she starts eating.

Below, we take a look at the various ways competitive eating can be an assault on your body. Considering the health effects of the calories, cholesterol, sodium -- not to mention the sheer volume of food -- with which these competitors engorge themselves, it is easy to see that this is not an activity for the weak of stomach.

In other words, please don't try this at home.

Calorie Overload

To some people, calories are counted in the dozens and hundreds throughout the day. But in the heat of competition, the number of calories these "freak-of-nature" contestants will ingest will be an order of magnitude higher than that of the average diner.

Consider this: one Nathan's hotdog, bun included, is 309 calories, according to the hot dog giant's website. If a competitor manages to tie Kobayashi, they will have put away 21,321 calories.

By comparison, the USDA dictates that the average male should eat between 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day, and the average woman should eat between 1,800 and 2,300 calories. Do the math, and you will see that in 10 minutes, the contestants will possibly consume more calories than a normal human being would in two weeks.

50-Hot Dog Meal: A Big Fat Deal

The Coney Island competitors could end up eating 1,380 grams of fat during their 10-minute feeding frenzy. Just thinking about chowing down that much fat might make you feel a little queasy -- but doing this regularly may raise your chances of developing a serious chronic health condition in the years to come.

And then there is the cholesterol. According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, the average human being should eat less than 200mg of cholesterol a day. If you were to tie the 69-hot dog record yourself, your cholesterol intake would be a whopping 2,436mg.

"I'm not sure if eating that many hot dogs can damage your blood, but it will probably raise your cholesterol level temporarily," said Keith-Thomas Ayoob at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "And it puts a strain on your body's organs to handle that amount of calories, fat, and sodium all at once."

The average human would have to average 180mg of cholesterol a day for two weeks in order to reach what Kobayashi did in 10 minutes.