Internet challenges are the modern versions of classic dares, but now that pretty much everyone walks around with a video camera in their pocket, these challenges can quickly go viral — which means that more people are being exposed to (and possibly engaging in) potentially harmful behaviors.
Enter the latest food-based internet dare: the “shell on challenge.”
On Tuesday, the Arizona Republic reported that this new video challenge is becoming increasingly popular among teens on the Snapchat app. To participate, kids (and some adults) are challenging each other to eat various foods with their shells on. People have been spotted biting into unpeeled bananas, eggs with their hard shells intact and, perhaps most alarmingly, plastic and cardboard product packaging.
While this new internet sensation might not be as obviously toxic as the Tide Pod challenge that went viral in 2018, ingesting these various “shells” could still do a lot of damage to those participating.
Dr. Hansa Bhargava, a practicing pediatrician and Senior Medical Director for WebMD, said that while this particular challenge is probably less concerning than some, there are plenty of risks involved.
When people eat items like unwashed fruit peels or egg shells, there’s a chance that they could be taking in bacterial organisms, she explained to TODAY Food. “For example, salmonella contamination of eggs could pose a hazard," she said. "Also, there may be pesticide residue that could be ingested, but usually small amounts shouldn’t impact a person.”
For those who are actually ingesting food packaging from manmade materials, however, the risks become more serious. Dr. Bhargava added that "wrappings may contain substances that could be carcinogenic." While a small piece of plastic will likely pass through your system within a day, larger pieces of inedible materials are major choking hazards. Some plastic items may also contain phthalates.
Though dangerous, the challenge has many people talking on social media.
Hostess Snacks even joked about the challenge in a tweet posted Tuesday.
While many are poking fun at the idea of eating food containers (and those who even attempt it), others are blasting it.
Besides the physical risks associated with extreme food-based challenges, Dr. Bhargava also stressed that this type of cyber peer pressure, which is relatively new in the digital age, poses a range of negative mental health issues for kids and teens.
“Some challenges can be dangerous,” she said, citing the Tide Pod challenge as a very dangerous example. However, she believes that parents should use these viral dares to start a discussion about why engaging in these potentially harmful behaviors is so problematic.
Said Dr. Bhargava, “This is a great opportunity to talk to the kids about challenges, social media pressure and even cyberbullying. Kids can be taught on being thoughtful about what they are pressured to do, as well as good digital citizenship.”