Who do you blame for the success of The Heart Attack Grill?

If you go to Las Vegas, one of the many restaurants you will encounter is the Heart Attack Grill.

It is probably the most extreme and unhealthy place to eat in the United States and deliberately courts controversy with its use of extreme menu item names, unusual promotions, and unique themes. An example of the extreme food names include Flatliner Fries (French fries made with pure lard), Butterfat Shakes, and the Bypass Burger (which comes in Single, Double, Triple, or Quadruple Bypass sizes), the latter of which contains 12 slices of bacon, two pounds of beef, and four layers of cheese. No lettuce is allowed.

Burgers can be as high as 8,000 calories (i.e., 4 days worth of calories in one burger). Obese customers over 350 pounds eat for free if they weigh in with a scantily clad “nurse” (waitress) or “doctor” (waiters). Orders are called “prescriptions” and customers are called “patients.” Finishing a triple or quadruple bypass burger allows customers to be wheeled out to their car by their own personal nurse. This past February, one customer was wheeled out a real stretcher when he suffered an apparent heart attack after eating a triple bypass burger.

The knee jerk reaction to the Heart Attack Grill concept is to either laugh or become angry. Either reaction plays into the hands of the owner (Jon Basso), which is to gain attention by purposely and cleverly courting public controversy by turning political correctness about medical issues on its face.

For those who are upset by the Heart Attack Grill concept, it is important to remember that the owner is at least being blatantly out front and honest about the food he serves, rather than other fast food restaurants that do not take this approach. For example, should you be more upset at The Heart Attack Grill’s Bypass Burgers that blatantly indicates how bad it is for you based or at Burger King’s Triple Whopper Sandwiches which requires some searching to find out that they are 1140 calories?

To be clear, I am not saying people should not be bothered about the Heart Attack Grill. Personally, I have mixed and vacillating feelings about it. On the one hand, it is certainly justified to be upset that someone would sell an 8,000 calorie menu item but on the other hand we do live in a free country where people have the right to eat unhealthy if they want to.

While eating one burger during your life time from the Heart Attack Grill on vacation will likely not kill you, eating these burgers on a regular basis likely will, a point the owner readily admits. However, if someone does dies from eating at the Heart Attack Grill regularly the primary blame falls to the patient for doing so despite knowing the risks. After all, the slogan of the Heart Attack Grill is “Taste Worth Dying For.” All of this being said, Basso cannot absolve himself from all blame because he is peddling this type of extreme food to the public.

Ultimately, the success or failure of the Heart Attack Grill depends on market forces. That is, if enough people decided not to eat there due to the health risks, then the company will go out of business. If people flock to the restaurant, then it will flourish. It’s as simple as that. The Heart Attack grill has been open since 2006, indicating that the concept attracts customers.

Dominic A. Carone is a neuropsychologist who blogs at MedFriendly.com.

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  • Anonymous

    This is a gimmick restaurant.  This restaurant is not a McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Applebee’s, or Chili’s.  The Heart Attack Grill is not designed to be eaten at regularly, not even occasionally.  This restaurant is a rarely, maybe once a year.  I doubt that Las Vegas residents are trotting down to the Fremont Street Experience to eat at the Heart Attack Grill every Friday night.  The rare intake of high calories is certainly permissible, and not terribly adverse to your health.

    As for the fries fried in lard, that is one of the healthiest choices for frying foods.  Lard contains just 40% saturated fat and is 45% monounsaturated fat (the “good” fat).  I’d rather have lard fried fries than hydrogenated vegetable oil.

    Please, if you want to focus on what’s wrong with America’s diet, do some research and focus on something that is actually a problem, instead of harping on something that isn’t that bad for you, and you aren’t going to be around enough to be tempted by.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/66NCFAXDWYB7JVNVNLNIUTCUVU Violetta V

    “while eating one burger during your life time from the Heart Attack Grill on vacation will likely not kill you”

    Unless you choke on it. I am still amazed people can eat as much. How can you actually finish an 8000 calorie meal? Do they give doggie bags? It’s not like they even taste that good. I used to like hamburgers and french fries when I was young (and could eat whatever I want and still stay slim), but the last time I tried it I noticed that while they taste good while you eat them – more because of the stuff between the meat and bread than the actual meat, the oil they are cooked in leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

    As PaulArkay – it’s for the tourists. People would go there out of curiosity or to watch others. Once in a few years trip to Las Vegas. I wonder if the owner patented the idea.

  • Payne Hertz

    Somehow, I suspect less “patients” consuming the “prescriptions” at this restaurant will be injured or killed by them than the prescriptions they obtain from the average doctor or hospital. Your moral panic is directed at the wrong target.

  • Maryann Long

    Never mind the food, how about the great job this place is doing for the public image of nurses, which is already inappropriately skewed thanks to the porn industry?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Brown/692744221 David Brown

    Actually, except for the tacky waitress uniforms, I approve of the Heart Attack Grill. Saturated fats are not the cause of heart disease so bring on the Flatliner Fries and the Single Bypass Cheeseburgers(1,2,3).

    References
    1. http://rdfeinman.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/saturated-fat-on-your-plate-or-in-your-blood/
    2. http://www.nutritionjrnl.com/article/S0899-9007%2811%2900314-5/abstract
    3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRe9z32NZHY

  • Anonymous

    I guess “only in America” could such a gluttonous meal continue to be around.  People who eat their probably thing it is funny and really don’t care or don’t understand what they are doing to themselves.  It probably is an exaggeration of the reality that is keeping America down as a real leader.  Other countries are beginning to catch on that as the McMacs come into their country and their obesity rates climb and then the health care costs, the idea of a tax on unhealthy food is more appealing  and they are doing it. The  beverages companies can’t lobby them.

    I’d like to see a RISK (reduction in sickness) tax/fee put on the food in the Heart Attack Grill - so that when someone really has to go to the hospital directly from there they have paid something upfront.  After all its a law they much be cared for.  Each person could see “the taxpayer” expense of their risk. 

    Then who cares what anyone eats as long as the taxpayer is not stuck with the bill. 

    I have read about “the fat wars” – meaning good or bad, saturated or unsaturated.  It becomes rather counterproductive to argue in the context of the overall problem.   Yea! Lard – FROM GRASS FED PIGS has healthy fat.  So does COCONUT OIL. So does GRASS FED COW MEAT AND BYPRODUCTS and of course the Omega 3 in fish fatl.  It makes sense.   OUR DNA was formed well before  the fat most people now eat existed. We have the health care costs and more cardiologists per/ capita than anywhere in the world to prove it.  

    The US is stuck with Big Ag - grow all the GMOcorn and wheat they want, get subsidies, advertize health risky food – to keep the profits flowing all in the name of ”we have to feed the world” and we are creating jobs and increasing exports. 

    Little will change (even with increasing healthy food movement and a personal understanding of what good food is) until we have a new agriculture model – more small local farmers, etc.  Other countries are starting to develop one because of hungry, malnourished populations where our issue is 70% of our population is over weight and probably at least another 10% malnourished by sugar consumption as the bulk of their diet- this is the PRIMARY REASON for our health care costs, and susequent debt problem.

    That’s what the Heart Attack Grill represents.

  • Anonymous

    There is overwhelming data linking increased consumption of saturated fatty acids (albeit only lauric, myristic, and palmitic acids) with higher LDL-C levels. And there is overwhelming data linking higher LDL-C levels with more atherosclerotic plaques and more CVD events. Do not console yourself with data showing that replacing saturated fatty acids with either omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and/or starch resutls in lower HDL-C as well. Yes the drop in HDL-C is disconcerting but data in animals (including primates) has shown reduced atheroscerotic plaque formation when either starch or polyunsaturated fatty acids displace saturated fatty acids. Why? Most of this drop in HDL-C is due to increased number of scavenger receptor B-1 (SR- B1) produced by the liver cells. These SR-B1s remove cholesterol from HDL particles (lowering HDL-C levels). However, there is no credible evidence that the drop in HDL-C levels results in impaired reverse cholesterol transport. Why? Because once the SR-B1 recptors remove the cholesterol from the HDL particles they are free to return to the artery wall and remove more cholesterol. By contrast, weight gain, inactivity, and smoking lead to a drop in HDL-C but no increase in SR-B1 and all are associated with impaired reverse cholesterol transport. Those who believe saturated fats are not atherogenic may well end up dead wrong.