Doctors ask Obama to stop eating junk food on TV

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A physicians’ nonprofit wants President Barack Obama to stop chowing down on hot dogs in front of news cameras. In a petition being filed on May 10, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine asks the White House to issue an executive order banning staged photo opportunities that show the president, the first family, the vice president, and members of the president’s cabinet eating unhealthy foods—including processed meats—that can cause cancer and obesity.

“The White House would never set up a photo op showing the president buying cigarettes, so why is it okay to show him eating a hot dog?” says PCRM nutrition education director Susan Levin, M.S., R.D. “Processed meats like hot dogs kill more Americans each year than tobacco does, and they cost taxpayers billions of dollars in healthcare. As role model to millions of Americans the president has a responsibility to watch what he eats in public.”

Since taking office, President Obama has posed for the cameras eating a hot dog at a basketball game with British Prime Minister David Cameron, eating cheeseburgers with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and stopping at a D.C. burger restaurant to share a cheeseburger with a reporter, among other similar instances. His predecessors, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan have also been caught on camera eating unhealthy foods, from ice cream to a Big Mac.

The Petition for Executive Action argues that such photographs are better publicized than health messages like the USDA’s dietary guidelines, and are likely to add to ignorance about health and nutrition.

Widely publicized photographs of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt eating a hot dog are credited with popularizing what once used to be a widely disliked food. Now Americans consume 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year.

The petition also contends that the photo ops, often held at restaurants, are akin to free product placement by the public officials. For instance, President Obama gave the Five Guys Burger and Fries chain a publicity boost when he stopped at one of its Washington outlets in 2009 with NBC news anchor Brian Williams.

Consuming processed meats increases the risk of colorectal cancer, according to a large number of studies, including the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health says that a daily serving of processed meats, like hot dogs, sausages, and bacon, increases the risk of premature death by 20 percent.

More than 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year. According to the federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, a third of all Americans are considered obese.

For a copy of PCRM’s petition or for an interview with Susan Levin, contact Vaishali Honawar at 202-527-7339 or

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research,and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.


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2 Responses to Doctors ask Obama to stop eating junk food on TV

  1. Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD says:

    Why do educated doctors jump to the conclusion that hot dogs and other cured meats “cause” cancer when the evidence is based on epidemiological studies that can at best identify associations, but have no capacity to determine cause or effect? In light of the weak science, a 20% increase in risk is easily a messy margin of error.

    Articles such as these reflect irresponsible interpretation of the data—and the reporting is rather inadequate as well. Not one mention that PCRM is basically a group of physicians and health care people promoting vegetarian and vegan diets. Their bias is significant.

  2. Annette Johnson says:

    I find it interesting that after several preseidentshave been “caught” on camera eating what you refer to as junk food you have decided to put forth your petition at this point. I would recommend you review your policies on taking public figures to task who may be engaging in an activity that is designed to create a bridge of communication with the people they are with. I also find it interesting you have chosen an all time American tradition to chide the President on. By the way, what is your positin on making healthcare accessible, available, affordable, and acceptable to all Americans? Have you challenged your elected officials on other measures to ensure all people in the country have access to preventive information re: their health and diet so theycan actually achieve the “My Plate: recommendations and have the option to choose other than hotdogs and hamburgers?

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