Hot Dog

Seriously? 1 Hot Dog = 36 Minutes Less of Healthy Life?

Remember when the pandemic was new and we were not allowed to laugh? They canceled April Fool’s Day in 2020. Well, today it’s back. We refuse to believe this press release from the University of Michigan School of Public Health is not a prank. Their environmental scientists are telling us that one hot dog will cost us 36 minutes of healthy life.

But it’s not all bad news. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich will give us back 33 minutes. As it turns out, a PB&J sits on top of the list from these folks for “the most health beneficial foods.”

Our lunch menu just changed for today.

Mashing Up Healthy Eating with the Environment

Perhaps it is unsurprising that this paper didn’t come from nutrition professionals. It came from environmental health experts. So naturally it’s a mashup of a healthy eating index with measures of environmental sustainability. These folks had a mission. Find foods that promote health and protect the environment.

So they did. Hot dogs are the worst for your health, they concluded. Beef bourguignon is the worst for the environment. But the authors want you to know that small changes can make a big difference. By swapping just ten percent of your calories from beef and processed meats, you can score a double win. You get 48 minutes more of healthy life every day and a 33 percent smaller carbon footprint!

Naturally, the swap is for fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, and the right kind of seafood. It’s healthy stuff that saves the earth while you eat. Honestly, it’s tough to argue with the foods they’re endorsing.

Good Recommendations, Tortured Math

As good as these recommendations are, these authors lose us with their tortured math. They started with correlations between self-reported dietary data and health outcomes. They took for granted that the relationship is causal. Then they pounded the numbers until they came up with minutes of healthy life gained or lost with good or bad food. Ellie Murray at the Boston University School of Public Health pretty much sums it up:

“In ridiculous health ‘news,’ it is literally impossible to make this claim based on our existing scientific study design and data analysis tools.”

We have a more basic question. How many minutes of productive life did peer reviewers lose when they evaluated this paper?

Click here for the paper and here further (possibly tongue-in-cheek) reporting from the Washington Post. For further explanation from the authors, click here.

Hot Dog, photograph © pepperberryfarm / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


August 26, 2021