Research connects overeating during national events to medical problems

Published: January 27, 2017 By: Dan Leveton

Overeating during national holidays and major sporting events could lead to serious medical issues requiring emergency intervention. That’s the determination of a new study led by a UF Health researcher in Jacksonville.

Asim Shuja, MD, a gastroenterology fellow at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, led the research team. The group found a tenfold increase in the number of people who had food stuck in their esophagus that needed to be medically removed during or just after the holiday or sporting event, as compared to other times. The study used data collected over an 11-year period from the emergency room at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston.

“Though the sample size was small, it’s clear that a pattern emerged showing a higher percentage of people seeking treatment during or just after the holiday or event,” Shuja said. “Also, a much greater percentage during those times needed help because food was impacted in their esophagus. It’s a very serious problem that people need to be aware of.”

Men were mostly affected, and most of the cases came during or just after Thanksgiving. But the researchers say other holidays such as New Year’s Day or major events such as the Super Bowl also had a higher incidence of cases.

Over the study period, from 2001 to 2012, 38 people underwent an emergency procedure on the esophagus during or just after the holiday or sporting event time period (within three days of the event). Nearly 37 percent of those were due to food impaction. In comparison, of the 81 who had the same procedure two weeks before or two weeks after the event during the “control period,” fewer than 4 percent were due to food impaction. During holidays and major sporting events, the most common impacted food was turkey (50 percent), followed by chicken (29 percent) and beef (21 percent).

“We think the main message here is for people to be aware and not to, for lack of a better term, overindulge,” Shuja said. “Not only the amount of food you’re eating during the holiday or event, but the size of the portion you’re eating can have a tremendous impact.”

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