Study: Over 90% of children’s diet is junk food

What’s our health destiny? New research in food fashion gives us a clear clue about the next generation of humans. Will pandemics persist and longevity lessen, while fitness keeps faltering?

If “you are what you eat” our next generation is apparently 90 percent junk. A new study recently published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlights just how poorly our young people are eating.

More accurately, the research focusing on food intake by children aged 2-19, encompassing parts of Generation Alpha and Generation Z, for those who keep track of such trivial terms.

However, there was nothing trivial about the study results, which should have been shocking to those who didn’t already know how bad children were eating. But the research didn’t seem to shock many people. It should have been extensively reported by all the media, but it wasn’t. Politicians and public health policy makers should have demanded real change, but any grandstanding that was heard won’t result in much, if anything.

The study showed that 67 percent of the food consumed by American children is junk food. This unhealthy trend is followed by virtually all other countries, so this is a global tragedy. But it gets worse.

The results of this study are grossly deceptive, and the real results even more shocking once we read the fine print.

Popular junk food items commonly consumed by children were not included because only one category, called ultraprocessed, which includes some of the worst items, was counted; yet other junk foods were not. Some of these others were processed grains, including flour and pasta, white rice, and products containing added sugars such as peanut butter, packaged meats and fish, and canned fruits.

In addition, add junk food as an ingredient to healthy food, and you have junk food. This factor was also not considered in the study, which did not include:

  • Added sugars in meals prepared at home and in restaurants.
  • Processed unhealthy vegetable (omega-6) oils from corn, soy, peanut, canola, etc.

These unhealthy foods can also make up a significant part of children’s diets. Add these to the ultraprocessed list, and over 90 percent of food consumed by children is junk.

The trend of junk food companies targeting children through marketing, often via the parents, was also made clear in this study. One example was the higher volume of junk food marketing to Black people. (Research published by Professor Paul Laursen and I showed Blacks, and other ethnicities, had significantly higher levels of excess body fat and related diseases LINK.)

It’s no surprise that about 70 percent of U.S. children are overfat, because the primarily cause is junk food.

As we know, what children eat affects their future eating habits as adults, along with their health and fitness status. So as bad as the world may be today, with raging chronic disease, a massive infectious pandemic (and the high risk of another), declining longevity and quality of life, and runaway healthcare costs, things could get worse.

That is, unless:

  • Public health policies/governments take steps to fix the problem, which they could do almost overnight.
  • More individuals take control of their own health destiny, and those of future generations.

Junk food is everywhere. It’s the new food fashion. It’s not only at fast-food drive-throughs, but prevalent in all restaurants and supermarkets, and in schools, hospitals, and health-food stores. It’s cheap, quick, easy — and addictive LINK. Most people are deceived about it, mistakenly thinking it’s not so bad in moderation. This idea comes from deceptive marketing, dressing up junk food to appear more natural, especially when certified organic, and often fortified with synthetic vitamins. It’s called food porn, and directed at children and adults — promotions and packaging that makes the products hard to resist.

The billions of dollars spent on marketing junk food is an investment easily returned in the form of greater sales volumes, higher profit margins, and addicted children who become addicted adults. (A very similar strategy has long been used by tobacco companies: sugar is the new tobacco, only much cheaper and more available to kids; Joe Camel just comes in other disguises.)

Advertising dollars usually influence media, and no doubt a reason for reduced reporting of this government-funded study.

Savvy and shrewd marketers have also taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a boom to the junk food industry from increased sales. The result has been weight gain and increased body fat for significant numbers of children and adults worldwide (which can further impair immunity and raise the risk of infection).

Another problem the JAMA study noted is that children consumed more synthetic folic acid. Unfortunately, this was touted in a positive light. It’s been known for a couple of decades that genetic mutations in folate metabolism may exist in 30 percent of the population. These can result in serious health conditions, which can be worsened by the most commonly available vitamin, synthetic folic acid (primarily found in junk food fortification and in most dietary supplements). Those with the mutation may require more natural folate. The study showed that children consumed less natural folate since they ate less healthy food.

Of course, as junk food intake increases, and natural food consumption diminishes, individuals lose an opportunity to obtain adequate natural forms of all vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats, and phytonutrients — vitally necessary for body growth, brain development, healthy aging, and much more.

As junk food intake increases in children, problems tend to be prevalent in the next generation of adults as well, a genetic mutation of sorts. This means the continuing trend of increased body fat worldwide, which reduces immunity and raises the risk of infectious pandemics, like COVID-19. It also reduces longevity and increases chronic diseases, and can impair physical fitness with the associated increases in the risk for inflammation, injury and pain.

While we’ve been waiting for governments to stop subsidizing junk food and allowing the sales of deadly products to children and adults, it’s not happening. Taking responsibility for our own health and fitness, and for that of our children, and future generations, is the simple and fastest remedy.

 

References

Wang L, et al. Trends in Consumption of Ultraprocessed Foods Among US Youths Aged 2-19 Years, 1999-2018. JAMA. 2021;326(6). doi:10.1001/jama.2021.10238.

Maffetone P, Laursen P. Revisiting the Global Overfat Pandemic. Front. Public Health, 25 February 2020 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2020.00051