Q. Does this week's declaration by the World Health Organization's cancer agency that hot dogs and other processed meats can lead to colon, stomach and other cancers mean parents should no longer let kids eat hot dogs at all?
A. A group of 22 scientists from WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans, in the same category as tobacco, with risk increasing with the amount of meat consumed. "That's not a new message. I think we've known that hot dogs aren't the healthy choice in general," says Jennifer Fitzgibbon, a registered oncology dietitian at Stony Brook University's Stony Brook Cancer Center. "It's just new that the IARC is stamping it, and saying that we need to pay close attention to what we're doing to our bodies."
In Fitzgibbon's book, that means icksnay on hot dogs as a regular part of a child's diet. "I think we should just save them for special occasions," she says -- a picnic or a birthday party. "If we really want to be a purist, then avoid them altogether. I know how difficult that is in Kid Land."
If parents don't want to give up the hot dog option completely, Fitzgibbon suggests a safer option is turkey or chicken dogs that are nitrate free instead of beef or pork hot dogs.
If parents of an older child have been feeding the child hot dogs and processed meats for years, they shouldn't panic, Fitzgibbon says. "What goes hand-in-hand with all this is, 'Does your kid have a high activity level? Does he eat a lot of fruits and vegetables?' You can change your eating habits," she says.