Competitive Eating? The AMA’s Against It

This Monday, men and women will gather as usual in Coney Island to see who can stuff the most hot dogs down their gullet in 10 minutes – the annual Independence Day ritual officially known as Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest. While the annual event has been held for nearly a century, it’s only been in the last decade or so that there’s been such national hype around it. ESPN broadcasts it. News media report on it. Bloggers comment on it. Odds-makers give their predictions. (This year’s favorite? Joey Chestnut, again, at 4 to 1 for victory, 5 to 2 for defeat, with an over-under of 60.5 hot dogs.)

In the run-up to this year’s competition, however, the AMA has decided to risk being called a spoilsport and adopted a resolution against “competitive speed eating as an unhealthy eating practice with potential adverse consequences.”

Gee, ya think?

Judging by the WSJ Health Blog’s report, AMA opposition is less about the relative junkiness of foods eaten in competition (although their background statement does address this), more about the physiological effects of speed eating. Although the research record is still sparse, do existing studies suggest cause for concern?

One study published a few years back in the Journal of Roentgenology looked at the stomach of a competitive eater and found that it expanded “to form an enormous flaccid sac capable of accommodating huge amounts of food.” The authors speculated that professional speed eaters may eventually develop morbid obesity, an inability to empty the stomach and “intractable nausea and vomiting.” But there’s no published report of this actually happening to speed eaters.

As [a] 2006 piece from Gastroenterology & Endoscopy notes, some physicians believe competitive eaters may suffer some of the same health consequences as binge eaters, including tooth-enamel erosion and irritable bowel syndrome. (Though again, we couldn’t find a published report of this happening in speed eaters.)

Meantime, a study of middle-aged Japanese men and women, published in 2008, found that faster (though non-competitive) eaters were more likely to develop insulin resistance than those who lingered over their meal.

No doubt, more research will be done. How could it not when the subject’s pop culture hook raises the odds of its getting attention?

Meantime, we might ask: What is the AMA hoping to accomplish? Is such a resolution even needed? After all, there are relatively few competitive eaters in the world, and those of us who watch them compete often do so for the gross-out and extreme factors. We can’t quite believe anyone would even want to chow down 50+ hot dogs in 10 minutes – or 47 slices of pizza, 9 pounds of Buffalo wings or whatever. We certainly don’t look to it as a model for healthy eating.

But it’s a heck of a lot easier to make this kind of resolution than one that could address real food system problems and poor eating habits – let alone work to bring those changes into being.

Maybe the AMA’s just looking for some attention, too.

To our American readers, we wish you all a very happy Fourth of July! Have fun and be safe. (Yes, the two can go together!)

Regular posting will resume on Wednesday, July 6.

Image by Space Pirate Queen, via Flickr

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About The Verigin Dental Health Team

A humanistic, holistic dental practice in Northern California, providing integrative, biological, mercury-free dentistry
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