Dr. Gifford Jones

For major league eating consult funeral director

I have a great admiration for the USA. Not only am I indebted to the Harvard Medical School for my medical training but I have many friends and associates in that country.

However, it’s been aptly said that, “There’s a stupid corner in the brain of every wise man”. One could also say there are some stupid corners in this great nation. Nothing is more asinine than its annual eating contests and those who sponsor this hazardous nonsense.

I recall as a kid at a county fair watching someone trying to eat the most pumpkin pie possible in five minutes. It was looked on as a game and no one made any money doing it.

But this is now major business with participants becoming stars, such as Joey Chestnut. Major League Eating contests were incorporated 13 years ago as The International Federation of Competitive Eating. Last year, it organized 85 contests with $600,000 in prize money.

The largest event of the year is the Coney Island hot dog eating contest, which draws contestants from around the world. This year, 50,000 people at Coney Island, and millions more on TV, watched while Joey Chestnut consumed 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes. New York’s Mayor Michael Blumberg was a major figure at the event and praised the winner.

Blumberg’s presence may be good for votes, but is horrendous nutritional advice. This is the same mayor who banned transfats in New York restaurants! Would he advocate such a side-show for his own children, proud that they injured their health by consuming large amounts of sodium and other questionable ingredients in hot dogs?

Consider how participants train to win. A suggestion from the sponsors of the event is for contestants to first consult their doctor. Rather than doing this, they would be better advised to consult their funeral director.

A prime requisite for winning is to develop a large stomach. So, to prepare for the event, contestants drink huge amounts of water each day. As one contestant stated, “I’ll stretch my stomach until it causes bleeding!” This person is also in dire need of a psychiatrist.

Others, after nearly drowning themselves with water, eat massive amounts of cabbage for days. Cabbage generates large amounts of gas, which also increases gastric size. Contestants chew on gum for hours to strengthen jaw muscles, learn to breathe through their nose, ignore their gag reflex, try different ways of folding food to make it easier to swallow and practice their hand-to-mouth coordination, a prime necessity for speed eating.

So what’s wrong with consuming these gargantuan amounts of food? One does not have to look into a crystal ball to predict some outcomes. Inevitably those who practice for days eating volumes of food become obese. Some contestants weigh 300 or more pounds, the perfect prescription for type 2 diabetes, with all its attending complications.

There are less obvious hazards. A study done at the University of Pennsylvania showed that stretching the stomach far beyond its normal limits can cause gastroparesis, a condition where the stomach loses its ability to propel food along the gastrointestinal tract.

If a peptic ulcer is present, the increased pressure of enormous amounts of food may cause perforation of the ulcer, a serious complication. Huge amounts of water can also dilute the blood’s electrolytes causing water intoxication. And if a contestant is having an unlucky day, intense gagging and large amounts of foods can rupture the esophagus (food pipe).

It appears that Mayor Blumberg and sponsors such as Nathan’s hot dogs, Heinz, Pizza Hut, Coca Cola and others don’t give a tinker’s damn that every 45 seconds a new case of diabetes is diagnosed in North America.

This is an obscene pastime we do not need as obesity and its complications may bankrupt our health care system. Not to mention the millions of children starving on this planet.

What is equally tragic is that the pittance spent for this carnival sideshow makes millions for sponsors. But as Barnum and Bailey so aptly predicted, “There’s a sucker born every minute”. Watch for the next contest at Thanksgiving!

Next week watch for the new web site.

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