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American kids are eating more junk food

With the increased consumption of ultra-processed junk food, many American children are not receiving the nutrients needed to thrive.
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December 30, 2022
A new study reported by NPR has shown that kids have been consuming an increasingly high amount of ultra-processed junk food. These foods are high in calories but are lacking in nutrition. They also have high amounts of unhealthy synthesized ingredients, which aren’t meant to be consumed in mass quantities. Ultra-processed foods encourage overeating and weight gain, which can lead to higher risks of problems such as heart disease.

According to a peer-reviewed study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 67% of children’s daily calories come from ultra-processed foods. Examples of ultra-processed foods include microwavable pizzas and hamburgers. These ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat meals increased from 2.2% of calories in 1999 to 11.2% reported in the JAMA research article from 2018. The appeal and accessibility of these foods have increased the number of calories they took up by over 5 times.

Children tend to require higher amounts of calories for their body size as they are still growing. According to a calorie calculator from the American Cancer Society, a lightly active 5-foot 10-inches, 130-pound 15-year-old male would need 2658 calories a day to maintain weight. A 25-year-old with the same traits would need 2560 calories.

The foods that supply these calories should be healthy to provide the nutrients needed for growth. A Calorie with a capital C, which is the type found on food labels, is the amount of energy it takes to raise 1 kg of water by 1 degree Celsius. The Calories in ultra-processed foods are mostly empty calories, which means that most of the energy comes from fats and sugars. They provide energy but do not contain the nutrients needed for your body to function, such as vitamins. Empty calories are also digested quickly, which leads to hunger and overeating.

Some foods that contain empty calories are soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, fast food, candies, cakes, and donuts. All the foods on this list can be identified as ultra-processed. The JAMA study clearly documents the increase of ultra-processed food consumption in youth, which is clearly a problem given the rising obesity rate in the United States.

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