Hot Dogs Can Shorten Human Life Expectancy?

“Joey Chestnut should never have been born,” joked a Reddit commenter, reacting to a claim that eating hot dogs can reduce life expectancy.

Eating hot dogs can reduce a person’s life expectancy.


An archived Reddit post in the “r/OutOfTheLoop” forum suggested that consuming hot dogs could shave 30 minutes off a person’s life expectancy each time they eat one. This claim referenced a study from the University of Michigan.

A Metro article from August 20, 2021, explained the study in detail. The researchers suggested that eating one hot dog could reduce a person’s healthy life by 36 minutes.

In contrast, other foods might add time to a person’s life. For instance, chicken wings were found to subtract 3.3 minutes of healthy life, while a peanut butter and jam sandwich could potentially add over half an hour. Salted peanuts might add 26 minutes, and baked salmon 13.5 minutes.

However, the post and many articles misinterpreted the study’s findings. The researchers were referring to Healthy Life Expectancy (HALE), a measure of the number of years a person can live in good health, free from chronic diseases and disabilities. The study analyzed the impact of various foods on HALE, not on overall life expectancy.

The University of Michigan study concluded that small changes in diet could be just as effective as major overhauls. Researchers developed the “Health Nutritional Index” to quantify how many minutes of healthy life could be gained or lost by consuming specific foods.

They assessed 5,853 foods, finding that the impact ranged from 74 minutes lost to 80 minutes gained per serving. The study also considered the environmental impact of these foods, noting significant variations and their correlation with global warming.

The researchers found that hot dogs were among the worst foods both nutritionally and environmentally. They estimated that eating one hot dog could reduce a person’s healthy life by 36 minutes.

Olivier Jolliet, one of the lead researchers, spoke to USA Today and clarified the study’s intent. He stated, “I wouldn’t get too worried about eating a hot dog from this. We were trying to show how you can improve your lifestyle and the environment without necessarily trying to be vegan.”

Jolliet emphasized that the study serves as a guide for making better dietary choices to enhance long-term well-being and reduce environmental impact. He highlighted that small, targeted dietary substitutions could offer significant health and environmental benefits without requiring drastic lifestyle changes.

For example, substituting just 10% of daily caloric intake from beef and processed meats with fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and selected seafood could provide substantial health improvements, including 48 minutes of healthy life gained per person per day, and a 33% reduction in dietary carbon footprint.

In summary, the claim that hot dogs reduce life expectancy is false. The study focused on the impact of foods on healthy life expectancy, not on overall lifespan. The idea was to illustrate how minor dietary changes can have a positive effect on both personal health and the environment.

So, while hot dogs might not be the best choice for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating one occasionally is not going to dramatically reduce your lifespan. The key takeaway is that small, manageable changes in your diet can lead to significant health benefits over time.

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