A study shows that ultra-processed foods consumed by teens and children can amount up to two-thirds of calories. Do we know what we are giving our kids?
A study of data spanning over 20 years revealed that ultra-processed foods already account for more than two-thirds of the calories consumed by children and teenagers in the United States.
According to a study released in the medical journal JAMA on Tuesday, 67% of calories were derived from ultra-processed foods in 2018, an increase from 61% in 1999. These foods include frozen pizza, microwave meals, packaged snacks, and desserts. The study examined 33,795 kids and teenagers’ diets across the country.
Industrial processing uses methods not seen in home-cooked meals to alter food’s consistency, flavor, and color to make it more convenient, affordable, and appealing. While this can keep food fresher longer and enable some foods to be fortified with vitamins, it also alters food’s color and consistency. The food business also promotes them vigorously.
“Some whole grain breads and dairy foods are ultra-processed, and they’re healthier than other ultra-processed foods,” said senior author Fang Fang Zhang, a nutrition and cancer epidemiologist at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.
“But many ultra-processed foods are less healthy, with more sugar and salt, and less fiber than unprocessed and minimally processed foods, and the increase in their consumption by children and teenagers is concerning.”
The study’s shortcomings, according to the authors, include the fact that recalling food intake isn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of nutritional intake. In addition, there is a propensity to underreport socially undesirable behaviors, such as eating unhealthy food.
Furthermore, correctly categorizing ultra-processed food might be difficult since it necessitates a whole ingredient list, which is not something that kids are likely to provide on a survey.
Children and Ultra-Processed Food
Each year, the children or an adult acting on their behalf were questioned by trained interviewers about what they had eaten during the previous 24 hours, to gather diet-related data for the study. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was used to collect the data.
According to the report, the percentage of calories consumed from healthier unprocessed, or minimally processed foods fell from 28.8% to 23.5% between 1999 and 2018.
Although there is a complicated relationship between ultra-processed food and children’s health, a recent study conducted in the UK discovered that children who consume more ultra-processed food have a higher chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.
The study has important ramifications for future health, according to experts, because childhood is a crucial time for building eating habits and biological development.
The Case With Youth?
Positive news indicated that initiatives to reduce the consumption of sugar-filled beverages, such as soda taxes, had been successful: The percentage of total calories from beverages with added sugar decreased from 10.8% to 5.3%.
Compared to their White peers, Black non-Hispanic teens saw a greater increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods in their diets. The study said that due to a lack of nationally representative data, it was not possible to evaluate changes in other racial or ethnic groups. It did point out, though, that Mexican American children typically consume fewer ultra-processed foods, which the scientists speculated might be related to more Hispanic families cooking at home.