Super spicy chips and snack foods have come under attack as being unhealthy, with certain school districts even going so far as to ban some brands from their schools. But now doctors say there’s another reason spicy junk food should be avoided: It can result in a trip to the emergency room. Emergency room doctors said they were seeing kids and some adults coming into the ER with gastritis, an inflamed stomach lining, or other stomach ailments after eating bags of spicy snack foods.
In Los Angeles, 12-year-old Andrew Medina experienced stomach pain on and off for weeks before seeing a doctor.
It’s “like if you have a bruise or something. It really hurts a lot,” is how Andrew described the pain to ABC station KABC-TV in Los Angeles.
Andrew told KABC that he probably eats between 20 to 30 bags of spicy chips and snacks a month.
The practice among kids and adolescents to not only eat junk food but very spicy junk food worries doctors, who say spicy snack foods can change the pH balance in the stomach, making it painfully acidic.
Dr. Martha Rivera, a pediatrician at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles, said she sees between five and six cases of children with gastritis daily.
“We have a population who loves to eat the hot spicy, not real foods, and they come in with these real complaints,” Rivera told KABC-TV.
Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said he believes that the flavoring coating the chips and snacks is what might be causing the stomach pH to change, rather than just the spiciness of the snacks. For example, he said he hasn’t had a lot of people coming in doubled over from eating too much spicy salsa.
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“In the past, I had not seen any problems with snack food until spicy flavoring became more popular,” said Glatter.
Glatter said it wasn’t just the high fat or high salt content that the kids or adolescents crave but the actual burn of the spicy flavoring.
“It’s almost like a food addiction. They seek out the burn,” said Glatter. “It’s a little thrill-seeking. ‘It’s like how much can I tolerate?’ and I’ve seen a number of children who eat four or five bags and come in screaming in pain.”
Some spicy snacks such as Flamin’ Hot Cheetos have come under fire for their low nutritional value, and multiple school districts have banned the sale of the snack on school grounds.
Regarding the bans by school districts, Frito Lay, which makes and sells the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, said it is “committed to responsible and ethical practices, which includes not marketing our products to children age 12 and under.”
The company did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for further comment regarding the spicy flavoring contributing to stomach distress.
Glatter recommends that parents keep an eye on their children so they don’t overdose on spicy snacks, and stick to vegetables and other healthy snacks instead.
“Parents should be aware of this. These products are not healthy and some children seem to become addicted,” said Glatter.