The epidemic of junk food | The world is currently facing an obesity epidemic, which puts people at risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes

The epidemic of junk food | The world is currently facing an obesity epidemic, which puts people at risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes
Image source: Flickr

The tsunami of junk food has struck the entire world. It has wreaked havoc on the health of people, especially of children. Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cholesterol imbalance, headaches, depression, dental problems, etc, never ever abounded as much before the advent of junk foods.

Junk foods are called fast foods. They are easy to prepare and in today’s world the custom of eating junk food is increasing day by day and making our future generations unhealthy and diseased. Parents should be very conscious of their children’s eating habits as child doesn’t understand what is healthy or unhealthy for them. They should train their children about eating habits since childhood and make them clear about the difference between healthy and junk foods.

The term ‘Junk food’ was coined by Michael Jacobson, director of Center for Science in 1972 in the public interest to raise attention among people about the issue of junk foods that has high calories and a lack nutritional value. Junk food contains sugar in high quantity, trans fat, polyunsaturated fat salt and numerous food additive such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) etc. and lack healthy nutrients that are required by body like protein, vitamin and fiber etc. They are popular because it requires a very simple process to manufacture and to consume. It is also popular because their taste and has a long shelf life which may not require refrigeration. Junk Food can be consumed very quickly. It is popular because of present day fast lifestyle.

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 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.

Teenagers aged 14–18 years get more than 40% of their daily energy from these types of foods, which is concerning. Junk foods are also known as discretionary foods.

Young people are often the targets of advertising tactics by junk food companies, which show our heroes and icons promoting junk foods. The junk food advertising also plays important role in its popularity. Eliminating the temptation for junk food and developing the awareness for health fitness like going to gym regularly and banning junk foods in schools can be helping in avoid the junk food and also shifting to the healthy foods can help in avoiding it.

Harmful effects of junk food on the human body

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. Another study examining YouTube videos popular among children reported that 38% of all ads involved a food or beverage and 56% of those food ads were for junk foods.

Grabbing a quick snack as a breakfast at any fast food joint on the way to office is the new trend. Healthy homemade dishes are gradually getting replaced by junk foods. A notable concern here is if this trend is good for our health.

Junk foods  are processed foods, often high in salt, fat, and sugar. Due to this, they are also known as HFSS (high in fat, salt and sugar) food. These food recipes are tasty and appealing, but too much intake of junk food items can impact one’s health drastically. Here is a detailed discourse on the harmful effects of junk food.

‘Junk foods’ are high in kilojoules (energy), salts, sugars, and fats. Junk food is so called because it doesn’t play a role in healthy eating, especially if it’s eaten to excess. Junk food is also known as discretionary food or optional food.

Some examples of junk food include:

t  cakes and biscuits

t fast foods (such as hot chips, burgers and pizzas)

t chocolate and sweets

t processed meat (such as bacon)

t snacks (such as chips)

t sugary drinks (such as sports, energy and soft drinks)

t alcoholic drinks

If your diet is high in fats, salt and sugar and is not receiving essential nutrients, your risk of obesity and other chronic (long-term) diseases may well increase. These diseases include: cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and a number of cancers.

In the UK, the food standards agency do not use the term ‘junk food ‘and describe food ‘HFSS’ (high fat, sugar or salt). They state that has foods can form part of a balanced diet, but research show that children diet contain too much fat (especially trans fat) salt and sugar. Americans eat the most fast food, but the Japanese spend the most on take away (home delivery) according to a research conducted by Euro-monitor International. The high level of per capita consumption demonstrates the importance of fast food in life style in these countries. Burger dominates the US fast food industry as it taking more than half of total fast food expenditure.

There are many companies that provide these foods like McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC etc. There are some foods like cheese chili, pav bhaji and gyro though they are not considered as fast foods but it contain less nutritional value and are made in oils as a result of that it can be considered as junk food.

There are different marketing strategies that junk food companies follow to promote it. Many of the companies like subway, McDonald’s etc. offer loyalty programs. This is the most important way how they advertise it. It is based on the frequency you buy it and based on that you get a gift after some frequent visits like get a free meal etc. Another strategy they use is termed as Collectibles. With this they get customer particularly that children watch and enjoy. What they do is they find movies, cartoons and when parents buy kids’ meal, they provide a free gift as a result people do come back to collect all the collectibles. They also use societal marketing. Social marketing is designed more for getting ideas across than making sales. With the help of this consumers that relate to ideas patronize fast food restaurant in turn.

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.

Why do people prefer junk food

Food is a basic need for human beings which provides energy to our body and protects us from diseases. Junk foods are immensely popular among the younger generation. Junk meals contain a lot of fat and sugars, oils, salt, and excessive calories and have low nutritional value and quality. Many people like junk food as it has a delicious flavour. Junk food has unique tastes as it lets in a solid bunch of spices that make it tasty. Children like junk food the most and want to have them for breakfast and as snacks in the evening. Whether it’s any occasion, party or celebration, people prefer to eat junk food.

Our life is becoming busy day by day, so we are going for easily made food like fast food and junk food. The junk food is smooth and fast to prepare. People can cook them instantly and consume them quickly. For example, making “Maggi noodles” does not take much time as compared to the parathas. Also, it has become a fashion to eat junk food while watching a favourite show, match or movie on the television. Junk food can be easily transported.

 Dr. (Professor) S. A. Tabish, Fellow New York Academy of Sciences

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