New ad may overstate dangers of hot dogs

A new TV commercial shows kids eating hot dogs in a school cafeteria and one boy's lament: “I was dumbfounded when the doctor told me I have late-stage colon cancer.”

It's a startling revelation in an ad that vilifies one of America's most beloved foods, while stoking fears about a dreaded disease.

But the boy doesn't have cancer. Neither do two other kids in the ad who claim to be afflicted. The 33-second ad launched last month in several U.S. cities.

The commercial's pro-vegetarian sponsors – a group called The Cancer Project – say it's a dramatization that highlights research linking processed meats with higher odds of getting colon cancer.

But that connection is based on studies of adults, not children, and the increased risk is slight. While compelling, it isn't conclusive.

The bottom line from several nutritionists familiar with the ad is this: Hot dogs aren't a “health food,” but eating one every now and then probably won't hurt you.

“My concern about this campaign is it's giving the indication that the occasional hot dog in the school lunch is going to increase cancer risk,” said Colleen Doyle, of the American Cancer Society. “An occasional hot dog isn't going to increase that risk.”

The health concerns primarily come from their high fat and salt content and sodium nitrate and nitrite, commonly added preservatives and color enhancers. Nitrate-related substances have been reported to cause cancer in animals, but there's no proof they do that in people.