Eating contests require participants to eat large numbers of calories.

What Are the Dangers of Eating Contests?

by Sara Ipatenco

The bragging rights and pride that come from stuffing enough food into your mouth to win an eating contest are a lure for those with a competitive spirit and a love for food. Even one eating contest can cause problems, but regularly shoveling food in as fast as possible can cause significant health problems in the long term. Like other competitive sports, such as boxing and race-car driving, eating contests can be enjoyable to watch, but the toll the participants exact on their health isn't so entertaining.

1. Training

Despite the fact that the International Federation of Competitive Eating prohibits training at home, many competitive eaters train diligently for weeks leading up to a contest. Training usually includes eating gradually larger amounts of food, which stretches the stomach and allows more food to be packed in. Many contestants also drink large volumes of liquid, such as milk, as another way to stretch the stomach. In 2012, the record for competitive eating was 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes, which can cause a person to gain 15 pounds, according to ABC News. In addition to the discomfort that's bound to follow from eating that much food, there are more serious health considerations to consider.

2. Caloric Intake

The sheer number of calories that a participant consumes in one sitting is a cause for concern when it comes to eating contests. The recommended average daily caloric intake is around 2,000, but a contestant can consume thousands more than that, which might contribute to unhealthy weight gain. According to ABC News, one hot dog with a bun contains 309 calories. If you multiply that times the huge number a contestant eats, the number reaches 20,000 or more. Contests don't stop at hot dogs, either. A cupcake, pie, doughnut or ice cream eating contest would cause a person to take in thousands of calories, too. Don't forget mayonnaise. Yes, people do compete to see who can eat the most mayonnaise, and since 1 tablespoon has almost 100 calories, the potential caloric intake is enormous.

3. Nutrition

A person who eats huge numbers of hot dogs, cupcakes or most other eating competition foods consumes too much sugar, salt or fat to be considered healthy in any way. Hot dogs, for example, contain about 670 milligrams of sodium each. If you take the 69 hot dog record, that's 46,230 milligrams of sodium, which is drastically more than the 2,300 milligrams recommended as a daily upper limit. The same goes for fat. One hot dog contains about 10 grams of fat, so 69 hots dogs equals 690 grams. Regularly eating large amounts of fat and sodium increases the risk of heart disease, kidney problems and stroke. When it comes to cupcake- and pie-eating contests, added sugar is another concern. One piece of cherry pie contains about 50 grams of sugar, which is 12.5 teaspoons, and obviously contestants don't stop at one. Too much sugar increases the risk of weight gain and heart disease.

4. Choking and Other Health Problems

Shoving all that food down the throat so quickly can cause choking, or at the very least, gagging. Mild complaints might include nausea, vomiting, bloating, indigestion and heartburn. More dangerously, certain foods can increase the risk of cancer. According to the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, eating just one hot dog per day increases a person's risk for colorectal cancer. A 2007 article published in the "American Journal of Roentgenology" reports that competitive eating also increases the risk of morbid obesity, intractable nausea and vomiting and gastroparesis, a condition that causes food to digest more slowly than normal. That can lead to reflux and chronic abdominal pain. It's also possible, the journal notes, that a person might need surgery to correct the damage done to the stomach during eating contests.

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