Guest post: The dangers of competitive eating

via Wikimedia commons

via Wikimedia commons

Chris headChris Smith, news editor of The Medical Student, gives the low-down on the medical angle of Extreme Eating Contests

Follow him on twitter for more medical know-how! @retrocoldplay


Competitive eating has grown in popularity as an obesity epidemic sweeps the world. For nearly one hundred years, the fourth of July has hosted Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest in NY, USA. Yet oddly, most competitive eaters are not obese. In fact, their lack of fat is believed to allow their organs to expand unrestricted.

In 2006, Dr David Metz, a gastroenterologist at the University of Pennsylvania, investigated the stomach of a competitive eater called Tim Janus. Racing against a control, Metz used barium laced hot dogs to follow their progress via fluoroscopy. The logical assumption would be that a competitive eater’s stomach quickly dumps food into the small intestines. However, after two hours Janus’ stomach had only emptied a quarter of what he had eaten while the control has emptied three-fourths.

The control had to stop after seven hot dogs due to nausea, yet his stomach was barely distended. Janus’ stomach ultimately held thirty six hot dogs in a “distended, fluid-filled sac” occupying his upper abdomen. He didn’t even feel full.

These competitors are treated like heroes yet the risks are very real. Your stomach only has to rupture once for the damage can be fatal. This sport also sends a terrible gluttonous message to society. The appearance that you can consume without consequence.

A study in the Journal of Obesity Surgery found no significant differences in the size of the stomachs of morbidly obese people as compared with non-obese control subjects. It is ultimately hormones and metabolism, calories consumed and calories burned, that determine one’s weight, not the stomach’s holding capacity.


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