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Death by steamed rice bun: Competitive eater dies

A Taiwanese student vying to become the "Big Stomach King" died after scarfing down two rice- and cheese-filled steamed buns, along with some of his teammates' food—a rare but not unheard-of competitive-eating death.

Twenty-three-year-old Chen (he's not fully identified in this Reuters report) fainted and died yesterday after "relentless" vomiting during the contest at Dayeh University in Changhua, Taiwan, according to the newswire.

Chen may have died from eating too fast, not too much, Huang Te-hsiang, the university's dean of student affairs, told Reuters. (Another report in Taiwan News quotes her as saying he may have choked to death.) "I can't say why he died," Huang told Reuters. "He had been in the contest before. He was a strong guy."

Surprisingly, the handful of known competitive eating deaths don't seem to be from athletes' stomachs bursting, says Jason Fagone, author of the 2006 book Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream. Whereas medical case reports have documented deadly stomach ruptures, most are among bulimics, author Mary Roach notes in this 1999 piece in Salon. "The stomach is amazingly resistant to trauma," Fagone says. "You can really, really abuse it repeatedly and it will hold up."

At least five people, including Chen, are known to have died after competitive eating, Fagone says. Most choked to death; a California woman died of water intoxication last year while trying not to urinate to win a Wii game console.

Strokes, however, may be a hazard. Mort Hurst suffered from one after eating 38 soft-boiled eggs in 29 seconds, only to return to the table after he recovered, Fagone wrote in Slate. "It's the rare injury that can prevent a dedicated eater from continuing to show up," Fagone says. "There's not such a thing as retirement in competitive eating."

(Image by iStockphoto/Rebecca Ellis)

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