The Dangers of Competitive Eating Events

Dangers of competitive eating contests

Over July 4th weekend I sat down to enjoy the Nathan’s hotdog eating contest on ESPN – a long standing tradition. I decided to discuss the risks of competitive eating events after watching Joey Chestnut win for the 4th time by consuming 54 hotdogs and buns in 10 minutes and hearing about the arrest of Takeru Kobayashi of Japan, a former champion and competitive eater, for storming the stage at the event. Kobayashi had refused to sign a contract with Major League Eating which kept him out of the contest. I know, who knew?

Competitive eating has become a wildly popular “sporting” event over the last decade or so. The popularity of food shows and challenges has moved this along I am sure. With its growing popularity and ability to draw large crowds it is a recipe for success for event planners, producers and venues but how safe is it as an event planner to produce and what is the potential impact on participants? After some review, I was able to determine that the risks associated with these events can be high. Competitors over the years have suffered strokes, choked and even died from competitive eating contests – those are some of the more immediate affects. Some long-term affects might include morbid obesity, profound gastroparesis (delayed emptying of the stomach) and intractable nausea and vomiting. I am not sure the fame and prize money warrants that kind of self-destruction. It is a relatively new sport so the verdict is still out on any additional long-term conditions.

competitive-eating-can-be-a-dangerous-event_event-safety-servicesInterestingly enough, most competitive eaters train religiously to ensure that they avoid the potential negative impact – a select group. It is important to take the competitive eating world seriously. Competitive eating competitions are popping-up everywhere. Eating competitions draw enormous crowds and can generate a buzz for your next event; however, they can be a recipe for disaster if certain considerations are not followed. Safety must be a priority and the participants must be fully warned of the risks (this would be a good time to consult with an attorney to develop an airtight contract addressing those risks). It would also be a good idea to consult with the Major League Eating Association to seek sanctioning for the event (this could help with liability concerns). Some additional basic rules you should follow developed by the International Federation of Competitive Eating is to limit competitors to 18 years or older, provide a controlled environment and have emergency medical technicians present. Additionally, if you spot Kobayashi at your next event you might want to call in some security reinforcements in order to prevent any disruptions. All-in-all, these events can be a great draw and provide a good time for many but make sure that as with any event you are planning or hosting to do your homework and mitigate any potential risks.

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Brian D. Avery has over twenty five years of experience in the events, tourism and attractions industry. His background is comprised of three areas of expertise: risk and safety management, event design and execution, and education. Brian routinely is asked to speak on the topic of event and attraction safety and provide expert testimony.
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