We all know the damage that cigarettes can cause to our health, but should hot dogs be given the same cold shoulder? According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit that advocates for a plant-based diet and preventative medicine, that answer is yes — and this is but one of many processed foods that are slowly killing us.

The group released a billboard near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway featuring several hot dogs in a cigarette box with a skull and crossbones on the front. It reads: “Warning: Hot dogs can wreck your health,” and is meant to make race fans think twice about eating the popular food.

An estimated 62 percent of Americans eat some form of processed pork, with the average person eating 32 pounds a year!

“A hot dog a day could send you to an early grave,” says PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “Processed meats like hot dogs can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease and various types of cancer. Like cigarettes, hot dogs should come with a warning label that helps racing fans and other consumers understand the health risk.”

While some might chalk this up as a publicity stunt by a pro-vegetarian group, the science linking processed meats to an increase in cancer risk is rather convincing. A 2007 study using data from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund found that consuming just 50 grams of processed meat (think one hot dog) daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent.

It gets worse. As MNN blogger Chanie Kirschner recently pointed out, a 2005 study at the University of Hawaii linked consumption of processed meats to a 67 percent increase in the risk for pancreatic cancer. Researchers, however, were quick to point out that the link may have more to do with the way the processed meats are prepared, rather than their contents.

Either way, moderation should be the overarching theme of any healthy diet. If you're one of those Americans averaging over 32 pounds of processed pork annually, consider cutting back or eliminating that habit altogether. If you're at the ballpark or other sports venue, also try and seek out some kind of healthier alternative — like a black bean burger or fresh salad.

What do you think, MNN readers? Will you be cutting back on your summer hot dog eating?

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Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Should hot dogs come with a warning label?
Nonprofit group says consumers should view the popular summer food as a health risk on par with cigarettes.