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July 28, 2011 | 3 minute read

Are Hot Dogs as Bad as Cigarettes?

Citing the conclusions of WCRF/AICR’s expert report and its recent updates, the pro-vegan advocacy group called the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has launched a pitched campaign to raise awareness that regular consumption of hot dogs and other processed meats increase risk of colorectal cancer.

PCRM’s campaign is certainly arresting: A billboard ad that depicts hot dogs poking out of a cigarette pack has received a great deal of media attention.

Although AICR is not affiliated with PCRM or this campaign, the ad’s claims are based on WCRF/AICR’s Continuous Update Project (CUP), which built and continuously maintains the world’s largest research database on diet, physical activity, weight and cancer. A CUP report on colon cancer risk was released earlier this year, which confirmed the recommendations of an independent, international 21-member expert panel convened by WCRF/AICR.

Among those recommendations: Limit consumption of red meat to 18 ounces per week. But according to the expert panel: “The evidence on processed meat is even more clear-cut than that on red meat, and the data do not show any level of intake that can confidently be shown not to be associated with risk.” Processed meat includes hot dogs, bacon, sausage and lunchmeat.

Specifically, the CUP report concluded that, if a person eats 3.5 ounces (the size of one jumbo hot dog) of processed meat every day, their risk of colorectal cancer will be 36% higher than someone who eats no processed meat. If they eat 7.0 ounces of processed meat every day (49 ounces per week), their risk will be 72% higher, and so on.

That’s why we recommend saving processed meats for special occasions, such as a slice of ham at Easter or a hot dog at a ball game.

But let’s put that extra risk in context.

Take the example of a person eating one jumbo hot dog a day, every day. The fact that his risk for colorectal cancer is 36% higher than someone who doesn’t eat processed meat is a real cause for concern. But note that a 36% increase, while substantial, is not anywhere near the risk associated with cigarette smoking.

Smoking doesn’t simply increase risk for lung cancer, but multiplies a person’s risk by as much as 20 times, according to the CDC.

The increased risk associated with diets high in processed meat is much, much smaller than that. Even a person who eats 7 ounces, day in and day out, increases his risk by 72% — in other words, his risk doesn’t even double, let alone multiply by a factor of 20.

Here’s the bottom line:  An occasional hot dog will not cause colon cancer. What the evidence does show, however, is that making processed meats an everyday part of the diet, as many Americans do, poses clear and serious risks. That is why AICR continues to recommend avoiding processed meats.

And that’s also why finding convenient, healthful alternatives to hot dogs, bologna and other school lunch staples is so important.

3 comments on “Are Hot Dogs as Bad as Cigarettes?

  1. Liz Belilovskaya on

    Great Post! The link between red meat and cancer is only starting to really get out and sink in with the public currently. It is even more seldom to hear about the link between cancer and processed meat. For a long time I ate a lot of cold cuts and absolutely loved hot-doges, bacon, and all that other good but really bad stuff. Strange to think that I was polluting my system so heavily then. I don’t anymore.
    Currently I am a community manager for a start up called I Had Cancer (ihadcancer.com). It is a place where anyone touched by cancer (fighters, survivors and supporters) can come together to connect with others, share information, support and get supported by others. It is not a medical site, but a place for you to find others in the same shoes. Email me if you want further information- [email protected]

  2. Jeanette Eaton on

    I, fortunately, or unfortunately, however one chooses to look at it..I am limited financially to just go and buy anything that I want to at the grocery store…I like meat, but don’t eat a lot of it because of the expense of it and, also because I am a Seventh-day Adventist, I don’t eat “scavenger” meat such as pork. I do, on occasion, buy chicken, turkey, or beef processed hot dogs or other meats..but, usually I would have to have a coupon for it AND it would have to be on sale. I used to buy chicken leg quarters when they sold for 39 cents a pound, but chicken, and, really, all meats are getting to be very expensive…where is Roosevelt’s chicken in every pot? I have purchased meat ‘analogs’ like vegelinks and vegeburgers but most of the canned or prepackaged ones are just too salty for me. I don’t know what the comparisons might be as far as healthy attributes but it would be interesting to find out. This is a good article.

  3. Dee on

    The Adventist Health Studies are well known in research circles. The original one came out decades ago and showed the strong link between diet,cancer and disease. A plant based diet clearly reduces disease risk. It is amazing to me that anyone who is an Adventist would still be eating any kind of meat. My husband and I have been vegetarian 49 years and total for the past decade. Our children and grandchildren also live on a plant based diet and we are a very healthy lot. My own, mentally healthy vegetarian parents lived into their 90s. There is no need for animal products in a diet, especially meat. I am so grateful for organizations like AICR and PFRM who are willing to go against big business and tell it like it is. Too bad they aren’t in charge of health care in this country.


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