Frontiers for Young Minds

Frontiers for Young Minds

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The Impacts of Junk Food on Health

research about junk food

Energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods, otherwise known as junk foods, have never been more accessible and available. Young people are bombarded with unhealthy junk-food choices daily, and this can lead to life-long dietary habits that are difficult to undo. In this article, we explore the scientific evidence behind both the short-term and long-term impacts of junk food consumption on our health.

Introduction

The world is currently facing an obesity epidemic, which puts people at risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Junk food can contribute to obesity and yet it is becoming a part of our everyday lives because of our fast-paced lifestyles. Life can be jam-packed when you are juggling school, sport, and hanging with friends and family! Junk food companies make food convenient, tasty, and affordable, so it has largely replaced preparing and eating healthy homemade meals. Junk foods include foods like burgers, fried chicken, and pizza from fast-food restaurants, as well as packaged foods like chips, biscuits, and ice-cream, sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, fatty meats like bacon, sugary cereals, and frozen ready meals like lasagne. These are typically highly processed foods , meaning several steps were involved in making the food, with a focus on making them tasty and thus easy to overeat. Unfortunately, junk foods provide lots of calories and energy, but little of the vital nutrients our bodies need to grow and be healthy, like proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Australian teenagers aged 14–18 years get more than 40% of their daily energy from these types of foods, which is concerning [ 1 ]. Junk foods are also known as discretionary foods , which means they are “not needed to meet nutrient requirements and do not belong to the five food groups” [ 2 ]. According to the dietary guidelines of Australian and many other countries, these five food groups are grains and cereals, vegetables and legumes, fruits, dairy and dairy alternatives, and meat and meat alternatives.

Young people are often the targets of sneaky advertising tactics by junk food companies, which show our heroes and icons promoting junk foods. In Australia, cricket, one of our favorite sports, is sponsored by a big fast-food brand. Elite athletes like cricket players are not fuelling their bodies with fried chicken, burgers, and fries! A study showed that adolescents aged 12–17 years view over 14.4 million food advertisements in a single year on popular websites, with cakes, cookies, and ice cream being the most frequently advertised products [ 3 ]. Another study examining YouTube videos popular amongst children reported that 38% of all ads involved a food or beverage and 56% of those food ads were for junk foods [ 4 ].

What Happens to Our Bodies Shortly After We Eat Junk Foods?

Food is made up of three major nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. There are also vitamins and minerals in food that support good health, growth, and development. Getting the proper nutrition is very important during our teenage years. However, when we eat junk foods, we are consuming high amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, which are quickly absorbed by the body.

Let us take the example of eating a hamburger. A burger typically contains carbohydrates from the bun, proteins and fats from the beef patty, and fats from the cheese and sauce. On average, a burger from a fast-food chain contains 36–40% of your daily energy needs and this does not account for any chips or drinks consumed with it ( Figure 1 ). This is a large amount of food for the body to digest—not good if you are about to hit the cricket pitch!

Figure 1 - The nutritional composition of a popular burger from a famous fast-food restaurant, detailing the average quantity per serving and per 100 g.

  • Figure 1 - The nutritional composition of a popular burger from a famous fast-food restaurant, detailing the average quantity per serving and per 100 g.
  • The carbohydrates of a burger are mainly from the bun, while the protein comes from the beef patty. Large amounts of fat come from the cheese and sauce. Based on the Australian dietary guidelines, just one burger can be 36% of the recommended daily energy intake for teenage boys aged 12–15 years and 40% of the recommendations for teenage girls 12–15 years.

A few hours to a few days after eating rich, heavy foods such as a burger, unpleasant symptoms like tiredness, poor sleep, and even hunger can result ( Figure 2 ). Rather than providing an energy boost, junk foods can lead to a lack of energy. For a short time, sugar (a type of carbohydrate) makes people feel energized, happy, and upbeat as it is used by the body for energy. However, refined sugar , which is the type of sugar commonly found in junk foods, leads to a quick drop in blood sugar levels because it is digested quickly by the body. This can lead tiredness and cravings [ 5 ].

Figure 2 - The short- and long-term impacts of junk food consumption.

  • Figure 2 - The short- and long-term impacts of junk food consumption.
  • In the short-term, junk foods can make you feel tired, bloated, and unable to concentrate. Long-term, junk foods can lead to tooth decay and poor bowel habits. Junk foods can also lead to obesity and associated diseases such as heart disease. When junk foods are regularly consumed over long periods of time, the damages and complications to health are increasingly costly.

Fiber is a good carbohydrate commonly found in vegetables, fruits, barley, legumes, nuts, and seeds—foods from the five food groups. Fiber not only keeps the digestive system healthy, but also slows the stomach’s emptying process, keeping us feeling full for longer. Junk foods tend to lack fiber, so when we eat them, we notice decreasing energy and increasing hunger sooner.

Foods such as walnuts, berries, tuna, and green veggies can boost concentration levels. This is particularly important for young minds who are doing lots of schoolwork. These foods are what most elite athletes are eating! On the other hand, eating junk foods can lead to poor concentration. Eating junk foods can lead to swelling in the part of the brain that has a major role in memory. A study performed in humans showed that eating an unhealthy breakfast high in fat and sugar for 4 days in a row caused disruptions to the learning and memory parts of the brain [ 6 ].

Long-Term Impacts of Junk Foods

If we eat mostly junk foods over many weeks, months, or years, there can be several long-term impacts on health ( Figure 2 ). For example, high saturated fat intake is strongly linked with high levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, which can be a sign of heart disease. Respected research studies found that young people who eat only small amounts of saturated fat have lower total cholesterol levels [ 7 ].

Frequent consumption of junk foods can also increase the risk of diseases such as hypertension and stroke. Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure and a stroke is damage to the brain from reduced blood supply, which prevents the brain from receiving the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive. Hypertension and stroke can occur because of the high amounts of cholesterol and salt in junk foods.

Furthermore, junk foods can trigger the “happy hormone,” dopamine , to be released in the brain, making us feel good when we eat these foods. This can lead us to wanting more junk food to get that same happy feeling again [ 8 ]. Other long-term effects of eating too much junk food include tooth decay and constipation. Soft drinks, for instance, can cause tooth decay due to high amounts of sugar and acid that can wear down the protective tooth enamel. Junk foods are typically low in fiber too, which has negative consequences for gut health in the long term. Fiber forms the bulk of our poop and without it, it can be hard to poop!

Tips for Being Healthy

One way to figure out whether a food is a junk food is to think about how processed it is. When we think of foods in their whole and original forms, like a fresh tomato, a grain of rice, or milk squeezed from a cow, we can then start to imagine how many steps are involved to transform that whole food into something that is ready-to-eat, tasty, convenient, and has a long shelf life.

For teenagers 13–14 years old, the recommended daily energy intake is 8,200–9,900 kJ/day or 1,960 kcal-2,370 kcal/day for boys and 7,400–8,200 kJ/day or 1,770–1,960 kcal for girls, according to the Australian dietary guidelines. Of course, the more physically active you are, the higher your energy needs. Remember that junk foods are okay to eat occasionally, but they should not make up more than 10% of your daily energy intake. In a day, this may be a simple treat such as a small muffin or a few squares of chocolate. On a weekly basis, this might mean no more than two fast-food meals per week. The remaining 90% of food eaten should be from the five food groups.

In conclusion, we know that junk foods are tasty, affordable, and convenient. This makes it hard to limit the amount of junk food we eat. However, if junk foods become a staple of our diets, there can be negative impacts on our health. We should aim for high-fiber foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits; meals that have moderate amounts of sugar and salt; and calcium-rich and iron-rich foods. Healthy foods help to build strong bodies and brains. Limiting junk food intake can happen on an individual level, based on our food choices, or through government policies and health-promotion strategies. We need governments to stop junk food companies from advertising to young people, and we need their help to replace junk food restaurants with more healthy options. Researchers can focus on education and health promotion around healthy food options and can work with young people to develop solutions. If we all work together, we can help young people across the world to make food choices that will improve their short and long-term health.

Obesity : ↑ A disorder where too much body fat increases the risk of health problems.

Processed Food : ↑ A raw agricultural food that has undergone processes to be washed, ground, cleaned and/or cooked further.

Discretionary Food : ↑ Foods and drinks not necessary to provide the nutrients the body needs but that may add variety to a person’s diet (according to the Australian dietary guidelines).

Refined Sugar : ↑ Sugar that has been processed from raw sources such as sugar cane, sugar beets or corn.

Saturated Fat : ↑ A type of fat commonly eaten from animal sources such as beef, chicken and pork, which typically promotes the production of “bad” cholesterol in the body.

Dopamine : ↑ A hormone that is released when the brain is expecting a reward and is associated with activities that generate pleasure, such as eating or shopping.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

[1] ↑ Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2013. 4324.0.55.002 - Microdata: Australian Health Survey: Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2011-12 . Australian Bureau of Statistics. Available online at: http://bit.ly/2jkRRZO (accessed December 13, 2019).

[2] ↑ National Health and Medical Research Council. 2013. Australian Dietary Guidelines Summary . Canberra, ACT: National Health and Medical Research Council.

[3] ↑ Potvin Kent, M., and Pauzé, E. 2018. The frequency and healthfulness of food and beverages advertised on adolescents’ preferred web sites in Canada. J. Adolesc. Health. 63:102–7. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.01.007

[4] ↑ Tan, L., Ng, S. H., Omar, A., and Karupaiah, T. 2018. What’s on YouTube? A case study on food and beverage advertising in videos targeted at children on social media. Child Obes. 14:280–90. doi: 10.1089/chi.2018.0037

[5] ↑ Gómez-Pinilla, F. 2008. Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 9, 568–78. doi: 10.1038/nrn2421

[6] ↑ Attuquayefio, T., Stevenson, R. J., Oaten, M. J., and Francis, H. M. 2017. A four-day western-style dietary intervention causes reductions in hippocampal-dependent learning and memory and interoceptive sensitivity. PLoS ONE . 12:e0172645. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172645

[7] ↑ Te Morenga, L., and Montez, J. 2017. Health effects of saturated and trans-fatty acid intake in children and adolescents: systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE. 12:e0186672. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0186672

[8] ↑ Reichelt, A. C. 2016. Adolescent maturational transitions in the prefrontal cortex and dopamine signaling as a risk factor for the development of obesity and high fat/high sugar diet induced cognitive deficits. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 10. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00189

New review unpacks what we know about junk food and 32 health issues

Donuts

We have long been told that junk food is bad for us.

But a new review by experts at leading Australian and international institutions sheds light on just how damaging a diet of instant noodles, chips, fast food and ready-made meals can be.

The researchers delved into the results of 45 previous studies, published over the past three years, involving almost 10 million participants.

Considered the largest review of its kind, researchers found "strong evidence" that eating ultra-processed foods can put you at higher risk of 32 different health problems, both physical and mental   —   and even early death.

After what they call "staggering statistics" that reveal "a troubling reality", the research,  published in the BMJ , is calling for UN agencies to take stronger action.

And the experts want countries like Australia to adopt similar measures used to curb smoking.

Let's unpack what they found. 

What are considered ultra-processed foods?

The umbrella review used the Nova food classification system to define ultra-processed foods (UPF).

Nova is a widely used system that aims at classifying food products according to the nature, extent and purpose of industrial processing.

It classes UPFs as a broad range of ready-to-eat products, including packaged snacks, soft drinks, instant noodles, and ready-made meals.

Researchers also specifically mentioned foods such as packaged baked goods, ice-cream, sugary cereal, chips, lollies and biscuits. 

These types of products are characterised as "industrial formulations".

Unhealthy food and snacks

Essentially, UPFs are "products made up of foods that have undergone significant processing and no longer resemble the raw ingredients," said Charlotte Gupta from the Appleton Institute at Central Queensland University.

UPFs are primarily composed of chemically modified substances extracted from foods, along with additives to enhance taste, texture, appearance and durability, with minimal to no inclusion of whole foods.

They also tend to be high in added sugar, fat, and salt, and low in vitamins and fibre.

How much do Australians consume ultra-processed foods?

Based on analyses of worldwide UPF sales data and consumption, the review said there was a shift towards an increasingly ultra-processed global diet.

However, there were considerable differences across countries and regions.

In high-income countries including Australia and the US, the share of dietary energy derived from UPFs ranges from 42 per cent and 58 per cent, respectively. 

"Ultra-processed foods, laden with additives and sometimes lacking in essential nutrients, have become ubiquitous in the Australian diet," said Daisy Coyle, research fellow and accredited practising dietitian at The George Institute for Global Health. 

"In fact, they make up almost half of what we buy at the supermarket."

The total energy intake from UPFs was as low as 10 per cent and 25 per cent in Italy and South Korea, the review found. 

Whereas, for low- and middle-income countries such as Colombia and Mexico, the total energy intake ranged from 16 to 30 per cent. 

What are junk foods putting us at risk of?

Overall, the review found that higher exposure to UPFs was consistently associated with an increased risk of 32 adverse health outcomes.

These include cancer, major heart and lung conditions, mental health disorders, and early death.

The researchers stressed that this kind of study "cannot prove the junk food is causing the health problems".

However, they say there is consistent evidence that these types of junk foods are "associated with death of any cause" and specific health conditions.

"While these associations are interesting and warrant further high quality research, they do not and cannot provide evidence of causality," Alan Barclay, a consultant dietitian and nutritionist from the University of Sydney, said in a statement to the Australian Science Media Centre.  

The review found "convincing evidence" higher junk food intake was associated with:

  • About a 50 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular disease-related death
  • A 48 to 53 per cent higher risk of anxiety and common mental disorders
  • A 12 per cent greater risk of type 2 diabetes 

There was "highly suggestive evidence" for:

  • A 21 per cent greater risk of death from any cause
  • A 40 to 66 per cent increased risk of heart disease-related death, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and sleep problems
  • A 22 per cent increased risk of depression.
"The statistics are staggering – these foods may double your risk of dying from heart disease or from developing a mental health disorder," Dr Coyle said. 

There was also evidence for associations between UPFs and asthma, gastrointestinal health, and cardiometabolic diseases but the evidence was limited.

The researchers acknowledged that there were limitations with an umbrella review and they couldn't rule out the possibility that other factors and variations assessing UPF intake may have influenced their results.

Does Australia need to take a tobacco approach to junk food?

The researchers say the findings call for urgent research and public health actions to minimise ultra-processed food consumption.

They want United Nations agencies to consider a framework similar to the approaches taken to tobacco.  

For instance, including warning labels on food packaging, restricting advertising and banning junk food being sold near schools.

Cigarette packet and lighter

Currently, Australia has voluntary programs which encourage companies to cut the salt, sugar and fat level from their foods.

There are also health star ratings on foods, but only around 40 per cent of products carry the labels, Dr Coyle told the ABC.

She said more needs to be done to enforce these measures and make them mandatory. 

"Existing nutrition policies in Australia aren’t enough to tackle this problem," she said. 

"We've put up with voluntary measures and they don't work we don't see changes … Australia is not going in a healthy direction." 

research about junk food

Putting warning labels on food, like what we have on cigarette packets, has been effective in places like South America, Dr Coyle said. 

Because they are designed to put consumers off purchasing unhealthy products, they put pressure on companies to make improvements to their food. 

"Companies don't want to put them on their product so they cut levels of salt and sugar, for instance," she said. 

The ABC has reached out to the Australian Food and Grocery Council for comment. 

Researchers say there also needs to be more consideration around availability and access to fresh and healthy food.

And more support should be provided to family farmers, and independent businesses that grow, make, and sell unprocessed or minimally processed foods.

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Articles on Junk food

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Hooked on Junk: Emerging Evidence on How Food Marketing Affects Adolescents’ Diets and Long-Term Health

  • Food Addiction (A Meule, Section Editor)
  • Published: 13 November 2020
  • Volume 8 , pages 19–27, ( 2021 )

Cite this article

  • Jennifer L. Harris   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-2155-3021 1 ,
  • Sonja Yokum 2 &
  • Frances Fleming-Milici 1  

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Purpose of Review

Examine current research on how adolescents are influenced by junk food marketing; inform proposed policies to expand food marketing restrictions to protect children up to age 17.

Recent Findings

Previous food marketing effects research focused primarily on TV advertising to younger children. However, recent research with adolescents demonstrates the following: (a) unique effects of food marketing on adolescents; (b) extensive exposure to social media and other digital marketing “disguised” as entertainment and messages from peers; (c) adolescents’ still-developing and hypersensitive reward responsivity to appetitive cues; and (d) disproportionate appeals to Black and Hispanic youth, likely exacerbating health disparities affecting their communities.

Adolescents may be even more vulnerable to junk food marketing appeals than younger children. Additional research on how food marketing uniquely affects adolescents and efficacy of potential solutions to protect them from harm are critical to support stronger restrictions on junk food marketing to all children.

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Harris, J.L., Yokum, S. & Fleming-Milici, F. Hooked on Junk: Emerging Evidence on How Food Marketing Affects Adolescents’ Diets and Long-Term Health. Curr Addict Rep 8 , 19–27 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40429-020-00346-4

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Determinants of Junk Food Consumption Among Adolescents in Pokhara Valley, Nepal

Affiliations.

  • 1 Faculty of Health Science, School of Health and Allied Sciences, Pokhara University, Kaski, Nepal.
  • 2 Independent Public Health Researcher, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • 3 Department of Healthcare Management, National Open College, Pokhara University, Kaski, Nepal.
  • PMID: 33898498
  • PMCID: PMC8060464
  • DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2021.644650

Background: Junk food consumption and its consequences has become a major public health concern globally because of its deteriorating health consequences and surging prevalence. Though its adverse health consequences are widely prevalent in all age groups, children and adolescents are more at risk. It may lead to obesity and act as a risk factor for different non-communicable diseases (NCD's) like heart diseases, cardiovascular disease, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, etc. This study was carried out to explore the junk food consumption and its associated factors among adolescent students. Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted among 538 adolescent students of Kaski district, Nepal. We used a stratified proportionate sampling technique to recruit the participants. A self-administered questionnaire was used for data collection. Descriptive and bivariate statistical analysis was performed. The odds ratio was computed to test the association. Results: The study found that more than half of the participants (60.30%) consumed junk foods over the last 30 days, more prevalent among public school participants (65.1%) followed by participants of private school (56.3%). More than half of the participants consumed salty snacks (58.7%) followed by sweets (57.5%). The time of consumption was found to be higher together with friends (83.9%). Similarly, it was consumed more while the participants were on a trip (70.1%). Consumption of junk foods was significantly associated with public school (OR: 1.44, CI = 1.01-2.06), single family (OR: 1.46, CI = 1.01-2.10), living with parents (OR: 1.64, CI = 1.03-2.63), while on travel (OR: 1.99, CI = 1.33-2.98), while reading (OR: 2.01, CI = 1.16-3.47), at home (OR: 2.20, CI = 1.53-3.16), at school (OR: 2.86, CI = 1.98-4.12), friends' influence (OR: 2.01, CI = 1.37-2.94), and junk food availability at home (OR: 1.92, CI = 1.33-2.76). Conclusion: Consumption of junk foods among adolescent students was remarkably high in both public school and private school adolescents. Regardless of adequate knowledge on harmful consequences of junk foods, school-going adolescents are consuming junk foods due to its easy availability and ready-to-use packaging. The government of Nepal should strictly standardize and regulate advertising policies and extravagant health claims advertised by junk food manufacturers. An appropriate intervention targeted to adolescents to improve food behaviors is recommended.

Keywords: adolescents; food preferences; junk food consumption; non-communicable disease; nutrient.

Copyright © 2021 Bohara, Thapa, Bhatt, Dhami and Wagle.

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From anxiety to cancer, the evidence against ultra-processed food piles up

Allison Aubrey - 2015 square

Allison Aubrey

research about junk food

Ultra-processed foods contain substances you wouldn't find in your own kitchen, like high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavor and color enhancers, anti-caking agents and emulsifiers. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images hide caption

Ultra-processed foods contain substances you wouldn't find in your own kitchen, like high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavor and color enhancers, anti-caking agents and emulsifiers.

At a time when Americans consume more than half of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods, there is increasing evidence that eating too many of these foods can make us sick.

A study published in the British Medical Journal finds people who consume high amounts of these foods have an increased risk of anxiety, depression, obesity, metabolic syndrome, certain cancers including colorectal cancer and premature death.

The data come from more than 9 million people who participated in dozens of studies, which researchers analyzed as part of umbrella review.

"Taking the body of literature as a whole, there was consistent evidence that regularly eating higher – compared to lower – amounts of ultra-processed foods was linked to these adverse health outcomes," says study author Melissa Lane , of Deakin University in Australia.

The U.S. diet is deadly. Here are 7 ideas to get Americans eating healthier

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The u.s. diet is deadly. here are 7 ideas to get americans eating healthier.

Ultra-processed foods are abundant in our food supply. Among the most common are highly refined breads, fast food, sugary drinks, cereals, cookies, and other packaged snacks. They are often high in salt, sugar, fat and calories and low in fiber and micro-nutrients such as vitamins.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend filling half our plates with fruits and vegetables, and eating plenty of whole grains, and not too much of the refined grains found in ultra-processed foods.

One telltale sign that a food is ultra-processed is if its ingredient label includes substances you would not find in your own kitchen such as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, hydrolysed protein, or additives such as artificial colors, flavor enhancers, emulsifiers, anti-caking agents and thickeners.

Ultra-processed foods are everywhere. Here's how to avoid them

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The evidence piles up

The observational studies included in this new review do not prove that consumption of ultra-processed foods can cause anxiety, cancer or other health conditions. These studies point to associations, not causation. But at a time when diet is a leading cause of chronic disease , it adds to a growing body of evidence that ultra-processed foods contribute to the development of these conditions.

For instance, a study published last year found people in the habit of consuming high levels of ultra-processed foods were about three times more likely to develop colorectal cancer, compared to those who consumed the least. The exact mechanisms by which these foods may increase the risk is not clear, though the overlap with metabolic disease is striking.

"One mechanism of how ultra-processed food can be associated with colorectal cancer is through leading to increased weight," says Jeff Meyerhardt , an oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Weight increases the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome factors, "that are closely tied to colorectal cancer," he says.

What we know about the health risks of ultra-processed foods

What we know about the health risks of ultra-processed foods

An ultra-processed diet made this doctor sick. Now he's studying why

An ultra-processed diet made this doctor sick. Now he's studying why

When it comes to mood and mental health conditions, there is evidence to show that adults who maintain a healthy diet have fewer depressive symptoms . For instance, a French study found adherence to a Mediterranean diet in mid-life is linked to a lower risk of depression, particularly in men. There's also evidence that healthy diets may help tamp down anxiety .

"We're seeing a roughly 20 to 50% increased risk of depressive symptoms in people who have diets that are high in these ultra- processed foods," says Wolfgang Marx , a Senior Research Fellow at the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia, and a senior author of the new research.

There could be a 'threshold effect' Marx says, meaning people who consume small amounts, under a certain threshold, are not at increased risk. Though it is not clear exactly how much is OK, because it may vary from person to person and depend on other lifestyle habits. However, the research shows people who consume the most are more likely to be affected by mood and mental health struggles.

Should consumers be warned about ultra-processed food?

A panel of advisors is currently evaluating all the latest diet and nutrition studies as part of a process to update the federal government's Dietary Guidelines . It is possible advisors could recommend limits on ultra-processed foods, though it would likely be difficult to get people to follow them.

On the regulatory side, the Food and Drug Administration is moving ahead to finalize a new definition of the term "healthy" – which is expected soon.

The FDA says a "healthy" claim on food labels could help consumers identify healthier choices at a quick glance and may prompt food companies to reformulate their products. The revised definition aims to make Americans more aware of healthy fats found in foods such as avocados and salmon, and of the relative harms of foods that contain lots of salt, added sugars and saturated fats.

The FDA is also moving towards front-of-package labeling that will flag foods that contain high amounts of sodium, sugar and saturated fat. These types of labels "will make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices and better understand the nutritional value of the foods and beverages they buy," says Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association.

And while the FDA is not currently tackling ultra-processed foods head on with labeling, Jim Jones, the FDA's first Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods says by focusing on these three ingredients – sodium, sugar and saturated fat – the agency aims to make people aware of the risks.

"The science around added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium intake is quite clear," says Jones. "We will also likely make progress on reducing consumption of ultra-processed food because there is a high correlation between those three ingredients and ultra-processed food," he says.

Jones says all regulatory decisions are based on scientific evidence, and there's still a lot that's unclear about the link between ultra-processed foods and disease.

Is it caused by more than the overlap with obesity and metabolic diseases? Given how palatable, convenient and inexpensive many of these foods are, is it easier to over-consume them? Or are there other mechanisms at play, such as ingredients or additives that can harm our gut health?

"Our feeling is that we need more science before we're ready to make recommendations or think of a voluntary or a regulatory program," he says.

And there is agreement from researchers and physicians that more research is needed to fully understand the connections between ultra-processed food consumption and disease risks.

This diet swap can cut your carbon footprint and boost longevity

This diet swap can cut your carbon footprint and boost longevity

This story was edited by Jane Greenhalgh & Carmel Wroth

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January 28, 2013

Genes, Junk Food and Weight

Photo of an overweight young woman resting her head on her arm and gazing longingly at a forbidden cheeseburger.

Researchers gained new insight into how genetics may influence obesity by studying how the mouse equivalent of a fast-food diet affects different mouse strains. The findings may help explain why some people gain weight more easily than others.

Excess weight can raise your risk for type 2 and gestational diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other health problems. But maintaining weight is difficult for many people. Body weight reflects the balance between the amount of energy consumed and the amount the body uses. But the body’s metabolism can change as you lose weight and alter your exercise habits. These changes may differ significantly among people, depending on genetics, age and other factors. Recent evidence also suggests that gut microbes play a role in obesity.

Dr. Brian Parks and Dr. Aldons J. Lusis at the University of California, Los Angeles, set out to explore the factors affecting the body's response to a high-calorie diet in mice. They fed about 100 inbred strains of mice a normal chow diet until 8 weeks of age. For the following 8 weeks, they gave the mice a diet designed to represent a typical fast food diet, with 32% of calories from fat and 25% from sugar. The study was supported in part by NIH's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Results appeared on January 8, 2013, in Cell Metabolism .

The team saw a wide range of body fat across the mouse strains even during the normal chow feeding stage. The response to 8 weeks of a high-fat, high-sugar diet also varied widely. Mice eating the “junk food” diet had increases in body fat ranging from none to more than 600% higher than mice who continued to eat a normal diet.

The researchers found that food intake correlated with body weight and lean mass. However, intake levels didn't account for the body fat changes seen with the high-fat, high-sugar diet. The investigators estimated that more than 70% of these body fat differences could be attributed to genetics.

To identify specific regions associated with obesity, the scientists performed a genome-wide analysis of about 100,000 genetic variations, or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). They found 11 regions that were associated with obesity. The regions contain several genes with known links to fat biology and metabolism in mice. Some have been linked to obesity in humans as well.

The researchers also analyzed gut microbe populations. They found that some mouse strains had large microbial shifts after eating the high-fat, high-sugar diet. Other strains of mice, however, showed little fluctuation. This finding shows that genetics strongly influences changes in gut microbes in response to diet.

“Our research demonstrates that body fat responses to high-fat, high-sugar diets have a very strong genetic component, and we have identified several genetic factors potentially regulating these responses,” Parks says. “Overall, our work has broad implications concerning the genetic nature of obesity and weight gain.”

The researchers now plan to explore the specific roles these genetic factors play in the interactions between diet and body weight.

— by Harrison Wein, Ph.D.

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References:  Cell Metab. 2013 Jan 8;17(1):141-52. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2012.12.007. PMID: 23312289.

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25 Junk Foods That Are Actually Good For You

Posted: March 31, 2024 | Last updated: March 31, 2024

<p>In the world of snacking and quick meals, the term “junk food” often carries negative connotations, implying a lack of nutritional value and a contribution to unhealthy eating habits. However, this perspective overlooks the fact that many foods typically classified as “junk” can, in fact, offer significant health benefits when chosen wisely and consumed in moderation. From the antioxidant-rich indulgence of dark chocolate to the wholesome crunch of air-popped popcorn, a surprising array of these so-called indulgences can provide essential nutrients, support heart health, aid in weight management, and even boost overall well-being. This collection of reimagined “junk foods” sheds light on 25 such items, revealing how they can fit into a balanced diet and contribute positively to your health.</p>

In the world of snacking and quick meals, the term “junk food” often carries negative connotations, implying a lack of nutritional value and a contribution to unhealthy eating habits. However, this perspective overlooks the fact that many foods typically classified as “junk” can, in fact, offer significant health benefits when chosen wisely and consumed in moderation. From the antioxidant-rich indulgence of dark chocolate to the wholesome crunch of air-popped popcorn, a surprising array of these so-called indulgences can provide essential nutrients, support heart health, aid in weight management, and even boost overall well-being. This collection of reimagined “junk foods” sheds light on 25 such items, revealing how they can fit into a balanced diet and contribute positively to your health.

<p>Dark chocolate, especially with a cocoa content of 70% or higher, is not just a decadent treat but also a powerful source of antioxidants. These antioxidants, such as flavonoids, are known to improve heart health and may lower the risk of heart disease. The key is to consume dark chocolate in moderation, as it is still high in calories and can contribute to weight gain if eaten in large amounts. Enjoying a small piece of dark chocolate can satisfy sweet cravings while providing a dose of beneficial nutrients.</p>

Dark Chocolate (70% or higher)

Dark chocolate, especially with a cocoa content of 70% or higher, is not just a decadent treat but also a powerful source of antioxidants. These antioxidants, such as flavonoids, are known to improve heart health and may lower the risk of heart disease. The key is to consume dark chocolate in moderation, as it is still high in calories and can contribute to weight gain if eaten in large amounts. Enjoying a small piece of dark chocolate can satisfy sweet cravings while providing a dose of beneficial nutrients.

<p>Air-popped popcorn is a light, whole grain snack that’s packed with fiber and antioxidants, making it a much healthier choice than many other snack options. It’s low in calories, especially when not laden with butter or excessive salt, which makes it a great snack for those looking to maintain a healthy weight. Popcorn provides a satisfying crunch and can be flavored with a variety of spices or nutritional yeast for added taste without compromising its nutritional value. As a whole grain, it contributes to a healthy diet by supporting digestive health and providing a slow-release source of energy.</p>

Popcorn (Air-Popped)

Air-popped popcorn is a light, whole grain snack that’s packed with fiber and antioxidants, making it a much healthier choice than many other snack options. It’s low in calories, especially when not laden with butter or excessive salt, which makes it a great snack for those looking to maintain a healthy weight. Popcorn provides a satisfying crunch and can be flavored with a variety of spices or nutritional yeast for added taste without compromising its nutritional value. As a whole grain, it contributes to a healthy diet by supporting digestive health and providing a slow-release source of energy.

<p>Natural peanut butter, without added sugars or trans fats, is a nutritious spread that offers a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and essential minerals. It’s particularly rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and can help with weight management due to its satiating effect. Peanut butter is versatile, easily added to smoothies, oatmeal, or slices of apple for a quick and nutritious snack. It’s high in calories, so it’s important to enjoy it in moderation as part of a balanced diet.</p>

Peanut Butter

Natural peanut butter, without added sugars or trans fats, is a nutritious spread that offers a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and essential minerals. It’s particularly rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and can help with weight management due to its satiating effect. Peanut butter is versatile, easily added to smoothies, oatmeal, or slices of apple for a quick and nutritious snack. It’s high in calories, so it’s important to enjoy it in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

<p>Full-fat Greek yogurt is a creamy, delicious source of probiotics, calcium, and protein, making it an excellent addition to a healthy diet. It supports gut health, aids in muscle maintenance, and contributes to bone strength. When choosing Greek yogurt, opt for varieties with low or no added sugars to maximize its health benefits. Its rich texture and tangy flavor make it a versatile food that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, from smoothies and breakfast bowls to dips and sauces.</p>

Greek Yogurt (Full-Fat)

Full-fat Greek yogurt is a creamy, delicious source of probiotics, calcium, and protein, making it an excellent addition to a healthy diet. It supports gut health, aids in muscle maintenance, and contributes to bone strength. When choosing Greek yogurt, opt for varieties with low or no added sugars to maximize its health benefits. Its rich texture and tangy flavor make it a versatile food that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, from smoothies and breakfast bowls to dips and sauces.

<p>Nuts like almonds and walnuts are nutrient-dense snacks that provide a good source of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. These nutrients contribute to heart health, assist in weight management, and offer essential vitamins and minerals. Eating a small handful of nuts can be a satisfying way to stave off hunger and provide your body with long-lasting energy. It’s important to consume them in moderation, however, as nuts are high in calories and can lead to weight gain if eaten in large quantities.</p>

Nuts (Almonds, Walnuts, etc.)

Nuts like almonds and walnuts are nutrient-dense snacks that provide a good source of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. These nutrients contribute to heart health, assist in weight management, and offer essential vitamins and minerals. Eating a small handful of nuts can be a satisfying way to stave off hunger and provide your body with long-lasting energy. It’s important to consume them in moderation, however, as nuts are high in calories and can lead to weight gain if eaten in large quantities.

<p>Cheese is a flavorful and versatile food that, when consumed in moderation, can be part of a nutritious diet. It is a good source of calcium, protein, and fat, contributing to bone health and muscle function. Opting for real, unprocessed cheese ensures you receive more of the natural nutrients without the additives found in highly processed varieties. Cheese can be high in saturated fat and calories, so portion control is essential to enjoy its benefits without negatively impacting your health.</p>

Cheese is a flavorful and versatile food that, when consumed in moderation, can be part of a nutritious diet. It is a good source of calcium, protein, and fat, contributing to bone health and muscle function. Opting for real, unprocessed cheese ensures you receive more of the natural nutrients without the additives found in highly processed varieties. Cheese can be high in saturated fat and calories, so portion control is essential to enjoy its benefits without negatively impacting your health.

<p>Avocado is a unique fruit that’s rich in monounsaturated fats, contributing to its creamy texture and numerous health benefits. These healthy fats help maintain good cholesterol levels and are essential for heart health. Avocado is also a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including potassium, which is important for blood pressure regulation. Its versatility makes it a popular ingredient in various dishes, from salads and sandwiches to smoothies and desserts, adding both nutritional value and a rich, creamy texture.</p>

Avocado is a unique fruit that’s rich in monounsaturated fats, contributing to its creamy texture and numerous health benefits. These healthy fats help maintain good cholesterol levels and are essential for heart health. Avocado is also a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including potassium, which is important for blood pressure regulation. Its versatility makes it a popular ingredient in various dishes, from salads and sandwiches to smoothies and desserts, adding both nutritional value and a rich, creamy texture.

<p>Baked sweet potato fries are a healthier alternative to traditional fried potatoes, offering a rich source of vitamin A, fiber, and other essential nutrients. Sweet potatoes have a naturally sweet flavor and are high in antioxidants, which can contribute to overall health and well-being. Baking them preserves more of their nutrients and minimizes the addition of unhealthy fats. Seasoned with herbs and spices, baked sweet potato fries can be a flavorful and nutritious side dish or snack.</p>

Sweet Potato Fries (Baked)

Baked sweet potato fries are a healthier alternative to traditional fried potatoes, offering a rich source of vitamin A, fiber, and other essential nutrients. Sweet potatoes have a naturally sweet flavor and are high in antioxidants, which can contribute to overall health and well-being. Baking them preserves more of their nutrients and minimizes the addition of unhealthy fats. Seasoned with herbs and spices, baked sweet potato fries can be a flavorful and nutritious side dish or snack.

<p>Opting for a whole wheat pizza crust adds a nutritional boost of fiber and nutrients compared to traditional white crusts. Topping your pizza with a variety of vegetables increases its vitamin, mineral, and fiber content, making it a more balanced meal. Choosing lean proteins like grilled chicken or plant-based options can further enhance the nutritional profile of your pizza. Making pizza at home allows for control over ingredients, making it possible to enjoy this popular dish as a healthier option.</p>

Whole Wheat Pizza with Veggie Toppings

Opting for a whole wheat pizza crust adds a nutritional boost of fiber and nutrients compared to traditional white crusts. Topping your pizza with a variety of vegetables increases its vitamin, mineral, and fiber content, making it a more balanced meal. Choosing lean proteins like grilled chicken or plant-based options can further enhance the nutritional profile of your pizza. Making pizza at home allows for control over ingredients, making it possible to enjoy this popular dish as a healthier option.

<p>Hummus is a delicious and nutritious spread made from chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice, offering a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. This Mediterranean dip supports digestive health and can contribute to a feeling of fullness, aiding in weight management. Hummus is incredibly versatile, serving as a dip for vegetables, a spread for sandwiches, or a component in salads. Its ingredients provide essential nutrients, including iron, folate, and B vitamins, making it a beneficial addition to any meal.</p>

Hummus is a delicious and nutritious spread made from chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice, offering a good balance of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. This Mediterranean dip supports digestive health and can contribute to a feeling of fullness, aiding in weight management. Hummus is incredibly versatile, serving as a dip for vegetables, a spread for sandwiches, or a component in salads. Its ingredients provide essential nutrients, including iron, folate, and B vitamins, making it a beneficial addition to any meal.

<p>Oatmeal cookies, when prepared with whole oats, nuts, and dried fruit, can offer a healthier alternative to traditional sugary snacks. These ingredients provide a good source of fiber, essential fatty acids, and protein, contributing to a more nutritious treat. By reducing the sugar and incorporating whole grains, these cookies can satisfy a sweet tooth without a significant spike in blood sugar. Enjoying oatmeal cookies in moderation can add variety and enjoyment to a balanced diet, while still providing some nutritional benefits.</p>

Oatmeal Cookies

Oatmeal cookies, when prepared with whole oats, nuts, and dried fruit, can offer a healthier alternative to traditional sugary snacks. These ingredients provide a good source of fiber, essential fatty acids, and protein, contributing to a more nutritious treat. By reducing the sugar and incorporating whole grains, these cookies can satisfy a sweet tooth without a significant spike in blood sugar. Enjoying oatmeal cookies in moderation can add variety and enjoyment to a balanced diet, while still providing some nutritional benefits.

<p>Baked chips, whether potato or vegetable-based, offer a crunchier, less fatty alternative to their fried counterparts. By baking instead of frying, the chips retain less oil, reducing their total fat content. This method of preparation can preserve more of the natural nutrients found in the potatoes or vegetables, making them a slightly healthier snacking option. Seasoned with herbs and spices, baked chips can satisfy salty cravings without the guilt associated with traditional snack foods.</p>

Baked Chips (Potato or Veggie)

Baked chips, whether potato or vegetable-based, offer a crunchier, less fatty alternative to their fried counterparts. By baking instead of frying, the chips retain less oil, reducing their total fat content. This method of preparation can preserve more of the natural nutrients found in the potatoes or vegetables, making them a slightly healthier snacking option. Seasoned with herbs and spices, baked chips can satisfy salty cravings without the guilt associated with traditional snack foods.

<p>Trail mix, a combination of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, is a nutrient-dense snack that provides a good mix of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. This portable snack is perfect for on-the-go energy and can help stave off hunger between meals. However, it’s important to choose a mix without added sugars or chocolate to maximize its health benefits. Enjoying trail mix in moderation is key, as it is calorie-dense and can contribute to weight gain if consumed in large amounts.  </p>

Trail mix, a combination of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, is a nutrient-dense snack that provides a good mix of protein, healthy fats, and fiber. This portable snack is perfect for on-the-go energy and can help stave off hunger between meals. However, it’s important to choose a mix without added sugars or chocolate to maximize its health benefits. Enjoying trail mix in moderation is key, as it is calorie-dense and can contribute to weight gain if consumed in large amounts.

<p>Frozen yogurt can be a healthier alternative to ice cream when chosen carefully, particularly if it contains live probiotic cultures and is low in added sugars. Probiotics found in some frozen yogurts support digestive health, while the lower fat content compared to traditional ice cream makes it a lighter option. It’s important to read labels carefully, as some frozen yogurts can be high in sugars. When enjoyed in moderation, frozen yogurt can satisfy ice cream cravings with fewer calories and more nutritional benefits.</p>

Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt can be a healthier alternative to ice cream when chosen carefully, particularly if it contains live probiotic cultures and is low in added sugars. Probiotics found in some frozen yogurts support digestive health, while the lower fat content compared to traditional ice cream makes it a lighter option. It’s important to read labels carefully, as some frozen yogurts can be high in sugars. When enjoyed in moderation, frozen yogurt can satisfy ice cream cravings with fewer calories and more nutritional benefits.

<p>Granola bars that are low in sugar and high in fiber offer a convenient and nutritious snack option. These bars can provide sustained energy through whole grains, nuts, and seeds, making them a smart choice for a healthy snack. However, it’s essential to carefully read the nutrition labels to avoid bars that are high in sugars and artificial ingredients. Choosing granola bars made with natural ingredients and minimal added sugars can contribute to a balanced diet and support overall health.</p>

Granola Bars (Low-Sugar, High-Fiber)

Granola bars that are low in sugar and high in fiber offer a convenient and nutritious snack option. These bars can provide sustained energy through whole grains, nuts, and seeds, making them a smart choice for a healthy snack. However, it’s essential to carefully read the nutrition labels to avoid bars that are high in sugars and artificial ingredients. Choosing granola bars made with natural ingredients and minimal added sugars can contribute to a balanced diet and support overall health.

<p>Fruit smoothies made with whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, or yogurt are a nutritious and delicious way to consume a variety of essential nutrients. These smoothies can be rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, contributing to a healthy diet. It’s important to avoid adding extra sugars or syrups to keep the smoothie as healthful as possible. Homemade smoothies allow for complete control over the ingredients, ensuring a healthy and refreshing drink that can serve as a meal replacement or snack.</p>

Fruit Smoothies

Fruit smoothies made with whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, or yogurt are a nutritious and delicious way to consume a variety of essential nutrients. These smoothies can be rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, contributing to a healthy diet. It’s important to avoid adding extra sugars or syrups to keep the smoothie as healthful as possible. Homemade smoothies allow for complete control over the ingredients, ensuring a healthy and refreshing drink that can serve as a meal replacement or snack.

<p>Sushi, especially when made with fresh vegetables, fish, and avocado, offers a nutritious meal option rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber. Opting for sushi rolls that include whole grain or brown rice can increase the meal’s fiber content, contributing to better digestion and longer-lasting satiety. It’s important to be mindful of the sauces and toppings, as they can add unnecessary calories and sodium. When chosen wisely, sushi can be a balanced and flavorful part of a healthy diet.</p>

Sushi, especially when made with fresh vegetables, fish, and avocado, offers a nutritious meal option rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber. Opting for sushi rolls that include whole grain or brown rice can increase the meal’s fiber content, contributing to better digestion and longer-lasting satiety. It’s important to be mindful of the sauces and toppings, as they can add unnecessary calories and sodium. When chosen wisely, sushi can be a balanced and flavorful part of a healthy diet.

<p>Quinoa chips are a crunchy, nutritious alternative to traditional snack chips, offering the health benefits of quinoa, a high-protein grain. These chips are often baked and contain a mix of quinoa and other whole grains, providing a good source of fiber and essential nutrients. Quinoa chips can satisfy the craving for something salty and crunchy without the unhealthy fats found in regular fried chips. Enjoying these chips in moderation can add variety to your snack options while still aligning with a health-conscious diet.</p>

Quinoa Chips

Quinoa chips are a crunchy, nutritious alternative to traditional snack chips, offering the health benefits of quinoa, a high-protein grain. These chips are often baked and contain a mix of quinoa and other whole grains, providing a good source of fiber and essential nutrients. Quinoa chips can satisfy the craving for something salty and crunchy without the unhealthy fats found in regular fried chips. Enjoying these chips in moderation can add variety to your snack options while still aligning with a health-conscious diet.

<p>Whole grain bagels offer a more nutritious start to the day than their white flour counterparts, providing a good source of fiber and essential nutrients. Choosing whole grain options can help improve digestive health and provide a more sustained energy source throughout the morning. Topping a whole grain bagel with healthy fats like avocado or protein-rich spreads such as natural peanut butter can make for a balanced and satisfying breakfast. It’s important to watch portion sizes, as bagels can be calorie-dense, but a whole grain bagel can be a healthy part of a balanced diet when enjoyed in moderation.</p>

Whole Grain Bagels

Whole grain bagels offer a more nutritious start to the day than their white flour counterparts, providing a good source of fiber and essential nutrients. Choosing whole grain options can help improve digestive health and provide a more sustained energy source throughout the morning. Topping a whole grain bagel with healthy fats like avocado or protein-rich spreads such as natural peanut butter can make for a balanced and satisfying breakfast. It’s important to watch portion sizes, as bagels can be calorie-dense, but a whole grain bagel can be a healthy part of a balanced diet when enjoyed in moderation.

Turkey Burgers

Turkey burgers are a leaner, healthier alternative to traditional beef burgers, providing high-quality protein with fewer saturated fats. Opting for ground turkey made from the breast reduces fat content even further, while still offering a satisfying taste and texture. Turkey burgers can be seasoned in various ways and topped with a plethora of vegetables, making them both nutritious and versatile. When served on a whole grain bun or a bed of greens, turkey burgers can be a delicious and nutritious part of a balanced diet.

<p>Dark chocolate-covered almonds combine the antioxidant benefits of dark chocolate with the healthy fats, fiber, and protein found in almonds. This snack satisfies sweet and crunchy cravings while providing nutritional benefits. The dark chocolate coating adds a layer of flavonoids, which are known for their heart-healthy properties. Enjoying a small portion of dark chocolate-covered almonds can be a delightful way to indulge in a treat that’s also good for your health.</p>

Dark Chocolate-Covered Almonds

Dark chocolate-covered almonds combine the antioxidant benefits of dark chocolate with the healthy fats, fiber, and protein found in almonds. This snack satisfies sweet and crunchy cravings while providing nutritional benefits. The dark chocolate coating adds a layer of flavonoids, which are known for their heart-healthy properties. Enjoying a small portion of dark chocolate-covered almonds can be a delightful way to indulge in a treat that’s also good for your health.

<p>Whole wheat pasta is a healthier alternative to traditional white pasta, offering more fiber and nutrients thanks to the whole grains used in its production. This type of pasta can help with digestion and provide a more satisfying meal with a lower glycemic index, leading to less of a spike in blood sugar levels. It pairs well with a variety of sauces and vegetables, making it a versatile ingredient in healthier versions of your favorite pasta dishes. Opting for whole wheat pasta can be a simple swap that increases the nutritional value of your meals without sacrificing taste.</p>

Whole Wheat Pasta

Whole wheat pasta is a healthier alternative to traditional white pasta, offering more fiber and nutrients thanks to the whole grains used in its production. This type of pasta can help with digestion and provide a more satisfying meal with a lower glycemic index, leading to less of a spike in blood sugar levels. It pairs well with a variety of sauces and vegetables, making it a versatile ingredient in healthier versions of your favorite pasta dishes. Opting for whole wheat pasta can be a simple swap that increases the nutritional value of your meals without sacrificing taste.

<p>Cottage cheese is a low-calorie cheese option that’s high in protein and calcium, making it a great choice for muscle maintenance and bone health. Its high protein content also helps in weight management by providing a sense of fullness and reducing overall calorie intake. Cottage cheese can be enjoyed on its own, with fruit and nuts, or as a savory snack with vegetables and herbs. Its versatility and nutritional profile make cottage cheese an excellent addition to a healthy diet, whether you’re looking for a satisfying snack or a protein boost.</p>

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is a low-calorie cheese option that’s high in protein and calcium, making it a great choice for muscle maintenance and bone health. Its high protein content also helps in weight management by providing a sense of fullness and reducing overall calorie intake. Cottage cheese can be enjoyed on its own, with fruit and nuts, or as a savory snack with vegetables and herbs. Its versatility and nutritional profile make cottage cheese an excellent addition to a healthy diet, whether you’re looking for a satisfying snack or a protein boost.

<p>Frozen grapes are a simple, refreshing snack that can satisfy a sweet tooth without the need for added sugars. When frozen, grapes take on a sorbet-like texture, making them a delightful treat on a hot day or a healthy alternative to ice cream. They are also a source of vitamins and antioxidants, contributing to overall health and wellness. Easy to prepare and convenient to enjoy, frozen grapes are a guilt-free snack that can be kept on hand for when cravings strike.</p>

Frozen Grapes

Frozen grapes are a simple, refreshing snack that can satisfy a sweet tooth without the need for added sugars. When frozen, grapes take on a sorbet-like texture, making them a delightful treat on a hot day or a healthy alternative to ice cream. They are also a source of vitamins and antioxidants, contributing to overall health and wellness. Easy to prepare and convenient to enjoy, frozen grapes are a guilt-free snack that can be kept on hand for when cravings strike.

<p>Beef jerky, especially when chosen in low-sodium and natural varieties, is a high-protein snack that can be a healthy option for those looking for convenient, nutrient-dense foods. It’s made by drying lean cuts of beef, concentrating its protein content and making it an excellent snack for muscle maintenance and recovery. However, it’s important to select versions with lower sodium content to avoid excessive salt intake. Natural beef jerky without added preservatives or artificial ingredients offers a wholesome, satisfying snack that’s perfect for on-the-go eating.</p>

Beef Jerky (Low-Sodium, Natural)

Beef jerky, especially when chosen in low-sodium and natural varieties, is a high-protein snack that can be a healthy option for those looking for convenient, nutrient-dense foods. It’s made by drying lean cuts of beef, concentrating its protein content and making it an excellent snack for muscle maintenance and recovery. However, it’s important to select versions with lower sodium content to avoid excessive salt intake. Natural beef jerky without added preservatives or artificial ingredients offers a wholesome, satisfying snack that’s perfect for on-the-go eating.

<p>As we’ve explored the unexpected nutritional benefits hidden within certain “junk foods,” it becomes clear that moderation, quality, and mindful selection are key to integrating these treats into a healthy lifestyle. By choosing versions of these foods that are closer to their natural state, lower in added sugars and unhealthy fats, and rich in essential nutrients, we can indulge our cravings without compromising our health. This approach encourages us to redefine what we consider “junk food,” recognizing that with informed choices, we can enjoy the best of both worlds—savoring the flavors we love while nourishing our bodies. Ultimately, it’s about finding balance and enjoying the diversity of foods available to us in a way that supports our health and well-being.</p><p><a href="https://lifestylogy.com/?utm_source=msnstart">For the Latest Lifestyle, Food, Health & Fitness, head to Lifestylogy</a></p>

As we’ve explored the unexpected nutritional benefits hidden within certain “junk foods,” it becomes clear that moderation, quality, and mindful selection are key to integrating these treats into a healthy lifestyle. By choosing versions of these foods that are closer to their natural state, lower in added sugars and unhealthy fats, and rich in essential nutrients, we can indulge our cravings without compromising our health. This approach encourages us to redefine what we consider “junk food,” recognizing that with informed choices, we can enjoy the best of both worlds—savoring the flavors we love while nourishing our bodies. Ultimately, it’s about finding balance and enjoying the diversity of foods available to us in a way that supports our health and well-being.

For the Latest Lifestyle, Food, Health & Fitness, head to Lifestylogy

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Determinants of Junk Food Consumption Among Adolescents in Pokhara Valley, Nepal

Suraj sujan bohara.

1 Faculty of Health Science, School of Health and Allied Sciences, Pokhara University, Kaski, Nepal

Kanchan Thapa

2 Independent Public Health Researcher, Kathmandu, Nepal

Laxman Datt Bhatt

3 Department of Healthcare Management, National Open College, Pokhara University, Kaski, Nepal

Shankar Singh Dhami

Shreejana wagle, associated data.

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Background: Junk food consumption and its consequences has become a major public health concern globally because of its deteriorating health consequences and surging prevalence. Though its adverse health consequences are widely prevalent in all age groups, children and adolescents are more at risk. It may lead to obesity and act as a risk factor for different non-communicable diseases (NCD's) like heart diseases, cardiovascular disease, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, etc. This study was carried out to explore the junk food consumption and its associated factors among adolescent students.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted among 538 adolescent students of Kaski district, Nepal. We used a stratified proportionate sampling technique to recruit the participants. A self-administered questionnaire was used for data collection. Descriptive and bivariate statistical analysis was performed. The odds ratio was computed to test the association.

Results: The study found that more than half of the participants (60.30%) consumed junk foods over the last 30 days, more prevalent among public school participants (65.1%) followed by participants of private school (56.3%). More than half of the participants consumed salty snacks (58.7%) followed by sweets (57.5%). The time of consumption was found to be higher together with friends (83.9%). Similarly, it was consumed more while the participants were on a trip (70.1%). Consumption of junk foods was significantly associated with public school (OR: 1.44, CI = 1.01–2.06), single family (OR: 1.46, CI = 1.01–2.10), living with parents (OR: 1.64, CI = 1.03–2.63), while on travel (OR: 1.99, CI = 1.33–2.98), while reading (OR: 2.01, CI = 1.16–3.47), at home (OR: 2.20, CI = 1.53–3.16), at school (OR: 2.86, CI = 1.98–4.12), friends' influence (OR: 2.01, CI = 1.37–2.94), and junk food availability at home (OR: 1.92, CI = 1.33–2.76).

Conclusion: Consumption of junk foods among adolescent students was remarkably high in both public school and private school adolescents. Regardless of adequate knowledge on harmful consequences of junk foods, school-going adolescents are consuming junk foods due to its easy availability and ready-to-use packaging. The government of Nepal should strictly standardize and regulate advertising policies and extravagant health claims advertised by junk food manufacturers. An appropriate intervention targeted to adolescents to improve food behaviors is recommended.

Introduction

Junk foods are defined as foods that are readily available, usually inexpensive, and having less nutrient value. These foods contain more calories, more salt, have a higher content of saturated fat, and contain less iron, calcium, and dietary fiber. Common junk foods include fast food, carbonated drinks, chips, desserts, chocolates, etc. ( 1 ).

Globally, junk foods are popular stuff, and consumption is increasing constantly. Traditional foods have been nearly replaced by food items that can be found in a state of ready to eat, in canned form, and preserved for a longtime ( 2 ). The consumption of such foods has peaked in developed countries; however, there is an increasing trend in the developing countries of the world ( 3 ). In South Asian countries, there is a clear rising trend of such junk food consumption ( 4 , 5 ). Despite established evidence of the negative impacts of junk foods on the human body, the consumption of junk foods is popular among youngsters. Such consumption may lead to a high prevalence of obesity, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and coronary heart disease ( 6 ).

It is estimated that 16 million (1.0%) disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost and 1.7 million (2.8%) of worldwide mortality have been attributed to inadequate consumption of vegetables and fruits ( 7 ). Despite the socioeconomic condition of the family, junk food consumption has been emerging worldwide due to quick consumption, ready to eat, inexpensive, and of good taste. Such foods have been found prepared using low-quality ingredients such as refined grains, added sugar, and fats, despite nutritious ingredients ( 8 ). Fast foods have high sodium salt, which is often used as a preservative to make the foods more flavorful and satisfying. Such foods attract more people especially children and adolescents ( 9 ).

Increased junk food consumption among all age groups and more common to young adults is an emerging public health challenge with global prevalence of around 70%. Rapidly changing dietary practices and an increasing sedentary lifestyle predispose to obesity-related non-communicable diseases, including insulin resistance diabetes, neurodegeneration, and psychological changes, stroke, headache/precipitation of migraine, the metabolic syndrome, adult-onset diabetes, non-insulin-dependent diabetes, coronary artery diseases, polycystic ovarian syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cancers, and autoimmune disorders and site-specific neoplasms, both in children and in adults. Recent data show that obesity-related non-communicable diseases are increasing in many developing countries with cross-sectional and secular trends of childhood obesity globally and more prevalent to developing countries ( 10 , 11 ).

Obesity and overweight has increased many fold in Asia, and it is becoming more alarming in recent years. Countries of the World Health Organization (WHO) South East Asia Region are facing an epidemic of diseases associated with obesity such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Various studies had shown a rising prevalence of obesity among children due to their risky behaviors and dietary patterns ( 12 ).

Despite facts known among adolescents in Nepal, there is a gap to explore food consumption patterns and association with obesity. Since adolescents account for a quarter of the country's population, there should be special strategies to think about their current nutritional status ( 13 ). A recent study from Kaski district depicts 8.1% prevalence of overweight and obesity among adolescents ( 14 ). Another study conducted in the Kaski district of Nepal shows that the obesity prevalence among adolescents is 3.3% ( 15 ). Risky behaviors such as unusual time of sleeping, tobacco and substance abuse, watching television for a longer time, consuming low dietary foods and fruits, along with insufficient physical activities are found to be more prevalent in the Kaski district, which are leading to more risk of deviating health condition of adolescents ( 16 – 18 ). About six among 10 deaths are found to be caused by NCD in Nepal; among them, nearly a quarter of these have been caused by cardiovascular diseases ( 19 ). So, we are in a better position to think about food habits among adolescents to prevent further complications.

There is limited evidence to identify the magnitude of the junk food prevalence and factors promoting its consumption. We explored the status of junk food consumption and its associated factor among the adolescents in the Kaski district of Nepal. Findings of this study are expected to be a primary step toward planning multipronged strategies to address the growing health hazard and protecting children and adolescents from the long-term ill health effects of junk foods. The study results will have policy implications for adolescents to plan, prevent, and control junk foods, obesity, and other health complications.

Study Design

An analytical cross-sectional study was conducted among selected school-aged adolescents in the Kaski district of Nepal from July 2017 to December 2017.

Study Areas

The study was conducted in 54 private and 47 public schools of Pokhara metropolitan (formerly Lekhnath municipality), Kaski district, Nepal. Kaski district is one of the largest cities of Gandaki Province, which comprises a total of 492,098 population, which is 1.86% of the national estimated population. The district has 46.3% adolescents, and it ranks third on literacy rate (82.38) and Human Development Index (0.576) with a poverty gap of 0.79 in the district ( 20 ).

Study Population

This study recruited school-going adolescents studying in grades 11 and 12 of selected schools in Pokhara metropolitan. The students of school having only girl's cohort or boy's cohort, physically challenged, and visually impaired students were excluded from this study.

Sample Size Estimation

Sample size was calculated by using the following formula: sample size ( n ) = Z 2 pq/d 2 [Z = 1.96 for 95% confidence interval, P = proportion of population with certain characteristic, q = proportion of population without certain characteristic, and d = allowable error (0.05 for 5%)].

Thus, sample size was computed to be 274 and after adjusting the non-response rate to 5%, the sample size was 290. Since the study included participants of both public and private schools at a ratio of 5:6, therefore, by adjusting the proportion ratio of 5:6, the sample size for public schools was 245 and private school was 290. Therefore, the final sample size of this study was 245 + 290 = 535 (Sample size calculation described in the Table 1 ).

Sample size calculation table.

Sampling Technique

A stratified proportionate sampling method was used to select participants. We designed a disaggregated sampling frame for public and private secondary schools of Kaski district, and the required proportion (5:6) was taken from the type of schools and the required participants from them Sampling technique is described in the diagram ( Figure 1 ).

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Flow diagram of sampling technique.

Data Collection Method

The data were collected using the standard self-administered questionnaire among the adolescent students during their school day, and a 30-min time was allocated to complete the questionnaire. Written informed consent was taken from the teacher on behalf of the participants, and the teacher was informed about the student's volunteer participation before the consent grant on behalf of the student. The purpose of the study, confidentiality of their answer, and there is nothing like right or wrong were briefed before data collection. Seven-day dietary recall methods were used to report their recent week dietary pattern. The data were collected from October 29 to November 8, 2017 in Pokhara metropolitan of Kaski district.

Data Collection Tool

A self-administered questionnaire was used for data collection. The questionnaire was pretested and validated before the final data collection. Extensive literature review was done, and a tool was developed reviewing similar literature, which reports the factors that accelerate junk food consumption. The tool was initially developed in English version and translated into Nepali. The linguistic validation and context validation was checked and recommended by nutrition experts and academic professors prior to pretesting.

Independent Variables

The independent variables are age, sex, parents' education, living status, family type, parents' occupation, advertisement, convenience, peer influence, availability of junk food, and knowledge about the health effect of junk food consumption.

Dependent Variable

The dependent variable is junk food consumption.

Operational Definitions

Adolescent student.

Students of grade 11 and grade 12 who are not older than 19 years of age.

Junk food includes instant noodles, biscuits, cookies, chip lays, chocolates, cake, ice cream, chow mien, Mo: Mo, samosa, soft drinks, Coke, Pepsi, Fanta, burgers, pizza, canned foods, fried potatoes, meat products, etc.

Junk Food Consumption

A student consumes at least one item of junk food for 3 days or more within the last 7 days.

Frequency of Consumption

It is the time that is more than 15 days in a month and more than 4 days in a week.

It is the time that is 5–15 days in a month and 2–4 days in a week.

It is the time that is <5 days in a month and <2 days in a week.

Place of Consumption

It is the place such as home, school, friend's home, etc., where the individual adolescent student consumes any type of junk food.

Living Situation

An adolescent's current living status with parents, relatives, friends, in a hostel, alone, or in any other condition.

Peer Influence

Peer influence is the perceived impact of peer groups, their encouragement, involvement, facilitation, and role modeling for other friends.

Participants who answered the right option among the given three questions in the questionnaire that were classified as adequate knowledge regarding the harmful effects of junk foods and others who did not answer right among the three were classified as inadequate knowledge.

Validity and Reliability

The study tool was reviewed by the researcher and nutrition expert to maintain the validity and reliability of the data collection. Pretesting was done among the 50 students of Pokhara valley, and all the required revision based on pretesting was done on the data collection tool. Pretesting samples were excluded in the final enumeration. Based on the findings of pre-testing, necessary modification on the tool was done prior to data collection. The test of normality was done for those nonparametric distributions, and the median values were computed and presented in the Results section.

Data Management and Analysis

Data were entered in Epi-data and imported into SPSS version 22. A descriptive and interferential analysis of data was performed. Odds ratio (OR) with a value greater than 1.00 is considered as significant. Similarly, chi-square testing was done. Those variables having a p-value less than 0.05 mentioned for risk ratio (RR). Thus, the computed RR yield odds ratio (OR) at 95% confidence interval and 5% level of significance.

Information about the demographic characteristics of the participants is presented in Table 2 . More than half (63%, 339/538) of the participants were in the late adolescent age (17–19 years) followed by the middle adolescent aged group. The minimum and maximum age of the participants was 14 and 19 years. The median age of the participants was 17 years with an interquartile range of 2 years. More than half (52.0%, 280/538) of the participants were female. More than half (64.1%) of the participants were from the nuclear family and lived with parents (83.8%, 345/538). Almost all participants' fathers (95.5%, 515/538) and mothers (92.6%, 498/538) had formal education. The respondents' fathers (78.4%, 421/538) and mothers (92.7%, 499/538) both had informal employment status at the data collection time.

Sociodemographic characteristics of participants ( n = 538).

Table 3 shows the status of junk food consumption by school type. More than half of the participants of the public school consumed junk food (65.1%, 153/235), and the same was found among private school participants (56.3%, 161/286). Among the total participants, 60.30% (314/521) were junk food consumers as they consumed junk foods for four or more days last week. The remaining (39.7%, 207/521) were non-consumers that means they consumed junk foods for four or more days last week. Thus, higher junk food consumption status in public schools than in private schools was observed (65.1%, 153/235, 56.3%, 161/286, respectively).

Status of junk food consumption ( n = 521).

Table 4 reveals the frequency and varieties of junk food consumption over the last month of data collection. Salty snacks were consumed by 59.8% (143/239) of participants from public school and 57.7% (165/286) from the private school. Similarly, sweet-related junk food consumption status, it was almost equal in both public and private schools (56.1%, 134/239 and 58.7%, 168/286, respectively).

Average consumption of type of junk food in last month ( n = 525).

The sweetened beverage was more prevalent at private school (50.3%, 144/286) compared with the public (42.3%, 101/239); the same result was found in fast food consumption status as well (44.1%, 126/286 and 31.8%, 76/239). More than three quarters of the participants from the public school (86%, 197/239) had a practice of consuming junk food with friends; however, participants from private schools (78.3%, 224/286) consumed the foods during travel time.

Occasional food consumption was found more in private school participants. However, they had more practice of taking junk food while they were being alone or while they were with their parents (60.5%, 173/286 and 40.6%, 116/286, respectively). This study also found that participants from public schools had more junk food consumption (15.7%, 37/239) at the time of reading, which was slightly less in participants from public schools (14.0%, 40/286). Consumption during the trip (75.5%, 216/286), at home (59.8%, 171/286), and with friends was more predominant with private school than with public school participants, while more proportion of public school participants had higher junk food consumption rate at a restaurant (64.9 %, 150/239) and at a school (61.3 %, 144/239).

Table 5 Depicts junk food consumption by some characteristics related to practice. Out of 522 participants, 39.3% (205/522) spent 0.85–2.5 US$ on junk foods followed by <0.85 US$ (27.8 %, 145/522), about 19.5% (102/522) spent 2.5 to 4$ and more than 4$ were expended by 13.4% (70/522) of the respondents. Junk food consumption by a family member was found to be 31.3% (163/522). A family member of private school participants had slightly more consumption (33.2%) than public school participants (28.9%). Nearly half of the participants (49.2%) consume junk food as an alternative to breakfast. Out of 522 participants, 38.9% (203/522) wanted to the junk food consumption. Similarly, out of 538 participants, 9.7% (52/538) mostly went outside of the home for dinner and had use of any item of junk food category.

Distribution of weekly expenditure on junk foods, consumption accompanying fruits and vegetables among the participants.

Furthermore, out of 538 participants, more than one third (34.0%, 183/538) of the participants had a practice of consuming fruits and vegetables three to four times a week. More than one fourth (25.5%, 137/538) of them consumed fruits and vegetables seven or more times, and one among five (21.9%, 118/538) consumed five to six times in a week. Only 18.6% (100/538) of them consumed fruits and vegetables one to two times a week.

Table 6 illustrates the knowledge level of junk food consumption and its consequences. Out of 538 participants, only 33.50% (180/538) had adequate knowledge regarding the harmful health effects of junk foods, and among them, more numbers were from private schools (37.5%, 109/291). Similarly, 66.5% (358/538) had inadequate knowledge of junk foods and its harmful effects. Among them, nearly three quarters (71.3%, 176/247) were from public school compared with private school.

Knowledge on harmful health effects.

We compared the OR for the different sociodemographic, behavioral, and individual-level variables with junk food consumption ( Table 7 ). It was found that participants of public school were 1.44 times more likely to consume junk foods. Similarly, children from a single family were 1.46 times, and those living with parents were 1.64 times more likely to consume junk foods. Time of consumption was explored and found, while on travel, 1.99 times, while reading 2.016, and while being alone, adolescents were 2.144 times likely to eat junk foods.

Relationship of different sociodemographic, individual, and behavioral factors with junk food consumption.

Reference, 1; OR, odds ratio; CI, confidence interval .

Home and schools were more commonly observed places for junk foods with OR of 2.20 and 2.86, respectively. Among the sources of information, peer pressure was found to be more influencing, and they were likely to consume 2.01 while being with friends. Similarly, we also explored family member's roles. Those who reported the availability of junk foods at home were 1.92 times more likely to consume junk food.

In this study from Pokhara, we found that more participants were late adolescents, female, living in a nuclear family, and mostly living with parents. A higher number of fathers had received formal education than mothers and had a similar trend in employment status. Adolescents studying in public schools were consuming more junk foods than those in private schools. Salty snacks, sweets, sweetened beverages, and fast foods were frequently consumed junk foods. The time of consumption, traveling, special occasion, places of consumption, and weekly expenditure were explored in this study. We found that adolescents were also interested to avoid junk foods in their meals. More frequent (7+ times/week) consumption of fruits and vegetables was reported from private school participants. Inadequate knowledge of junk food and its long-term public health impact was found more common to participants from public school (71.3%,176/247) and private school participants (62 %,182/291), which suggests that more than half of the respondents had inadequate knowledge on junk food; thus, appropriate interventions need to be done to reduce consumption of such foods.

Consumption of junk foods and its association with different sociodemographic variables has been evaluated in our study; furthermore, published evidence supports that the dietary pattern and socioeconomic characteristics are associated ( 21 , 25 , 26 ). Similarly, consumption is also governed by availability and distance to junk food outlets ( 27 , 28 ). The distance to the grocery store and fast food outlet is also found to be associated with skipping breakfast and free lunch at school and irregular eating habits ( 29 ). Furthermore, good taste, advertisement, easy availability of fast foods, and marketing are also found to be associated ( 30 , 31 ). Other factors for growing fast food availability are increased earning, urbanization, busier lifestyle, fast service, assurance of food safety, and brands in China ( 32 ). Our study is of different nature, and we did not explore these factors; however, these might have definite impacts on the behaviors of the food of adolescents. One of such studies stated that there is no relationship with the proximity of restaurant and the body mass index (BMI) ( 33 ). Consumption of junk foods has been reported as risk factors for obesity and overweight among adolescents ( 34 ). More factors at the individual, social levels have a promotive role in fast food consumption in Teheran among adolescents ( 35 ). Advertisements and bored with family foods have been associated with fast food consumption ( 36 ). Our study shows similarities with the current research findings though we did not explore the BMI status and its factors for them.

Furthermore, adolescents living with parents are consuming junk foods more than others. Similarly, another research from the United States of America (USA) shows that those living with parents and in rented apartments have less frequent meals, poor dietary intake, and little home food availability compared with those living on campus ( 37 ). Moreover, another study from the USA shows that the food intake increased with increasing age and color of participants ( 38 ); however, we did not assess any role of ethnicity in this study, though our study population had a later adolescent aged population. In our study, we found that adolescents are more likely to consume junk food at home, schools, restaurants, and on a trip. Another study reveals that those taking lunch in the school canteen, hotels, and bakers are more likely to consume junk foods; parental influence on eating habits, eating dinner out, and consumption of vegetables and fruits have been found associated with junk food consumption ( 39 ). These factors reported from different studies were similar to our findings.

Furthermore, another research also highlighted the parental role in reducing the consumption of snacks high in solid oils, fats, and added sugars (SOFAS) ( 22 ). Our study demonstrated quite an interesting finding that adolescents living with parents also consumed more junk foods. However, friends were an important influencer to consume junk foods than parents. There are recommendations that the computation of fast foods have multiple factors including societal and individual level ( 35 ). Our study reported having similar elements in urban context of Pokhara, Nepal.

Increased fast food consumption is significantly associated with age, sex, family income, and residence ( 40 ). We also found an association with family types, family behaviors, and availability of foods. Since we conducted a study in urban settings, therefore, we are unable to comment on the difference on the basis of study settings, either urban or rural strata for food consumption. Another study from Pokhara shows that 75% of adolescents had good knowledge ( 15 ). However, in our study findings, 66.5% only had inadequate knowledge about junk foods. The varying proportion can be the used for the cutoff to define knowledge level. Furthermore, we only computed odds ratio without limiting other influencers. So, identification of the strongest influencer can be another scope of work. A study conducted on the general population in Singapore shows that regular fast-food consumers are those who are younger, belong to higher-income groups, and with middle-level education ( 41 ). Among the adolescents, there are various concerns related to foods and body images, dieting, education about foods, control of parents, educational level of mothers, and eating with family ( 42 ). In the present study also, we found positive association with some of these tested variables. In-depth exploring of these factors can be another sphere for the study.

Outcome of our study provides detailed understanding not only on knowledge, prevalence, and practice, influence of social media, peers, and family for junk food consumption among participants but also the reasons and influencing factors for participants to consume junk foods regardless of their knowledge on harmful effects and complications of junk food consumption. Similarly, this research work also provides a comparative insight information on junk food consumption pattern in public and private schools, which will be a supportive evidence for further policy implication.

Despite of these, our study is only limited to explore factors for junk food consumption among adolescents. We only relied on information given by them on the self-administered questionnaire. Therefore, we are unable to comment on the impact of these factors on their nutritional status due to lack of ABC parameters. These figures might have information bias, recall bias, copying other responses, and negligence to respond. We only recruited classes 11 and 12; therefore, junk food consumption status and other predictive factors of the other early adolescents might be missing. The economic status of the participants was not measured, although we supposed that it as an important factor. Junk food consumption is one of the growing concerns of the policymakers to safeguard public health globally. Therefore, we would like to recommend further study exploring ABC parameters of nutrition, their relationship with junk foods, frequency, lesser bias, and using the comprehensive technique of data collection.

Various cross-sectional studies have been conducted to assess the determinants of junk food and knowledge and practice of junk food consumption in different settings of Nepal and other low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), but our attempt to figure out public school and private school participants' junk food consumption status would be a further pathway to conduct comparative studies on similar topic to assess the health impact of junk foods among those who consume it and who do not consume it. Furthermore, comprehensive longitudinal studies will be a future direction to assess the growth and development of children and adults having junk food consumption practice.

Strategic risk communication to minimize junk food consumption should be prioritized, and interventions should be incorporated into national nutritional strategies. Behavior-change communication strategies should be tailored to targeted school children and general populations in order to address Nepal's food transition and long-term impact. We recommend further longitudinal research to assess epidemiological impact of junk foods, growth, and development of children and adolescents who had the history of regular junk food consumption.

Conclusions

Our study findings reveal an increasing junk food consumption among school going-adolescents, which may contribute to poor growth outcomes. Consumption during travel time, restaurants, home, and school were found to be more common. Family and peer roles were also found to be more influencing for junk food accompanying the participants increased consumption. Interestingly, media exposure played a promotive role in junk food promotion, and among these, friend's influence is most influential.

Consumption of junk food among adolescent students was remarkably high in both public school and private school adolescents. Regardless of adequate knowledge on harmful consequences of junk foods, school-going adolescents are consuming junk food due to its easy availability and ready-to-use packaging. The government of Nepal should strictly standardize and regulate advertising policies and extravagant health claims advertised by junk food manufacturers. An appropriate intervention incorporated with national nutrition policies targeted to adolescents for improved food behaviors is recommended.

Data Availability Statement

Ethics statement.

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by Pokhara University Institutional Review Committee(Ref # 28/074/75). Written informed consent to participate in this study was provided by the participants' legal guardian/next of kin.

Author Contributions

SSB, KT, and LDB are principal investigators of this study, responsible for conceptualization, design, methodology application, data curation, data analysis, software application, writing an original draft, reviewing and editing, and overall supervision of the research. SSD and SW are responsible for the concept and design of the study, interpretation of the results, and preparation of the manuscript. LDB is responsible for conceptualization, design, methodology application, data collection, data curation, and analysis. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Acknowledgments

Our heartfelt thanks to all the participants who participated in this study. We are thankful to Pokhara University, Faculty of Health Science, School of Health and Allied Sciences. Special thanks to all the public and private schools of Pokhara Metropolitan and Private and Boarding School's Organization (PABSON) Kaski branch for their immense support.

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COMMENTS

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