Ultra-processed foods or junk foods are the most dominant nourishment source of the majority of the kid and teen population in the United States. According to a recent study, most of the foods counted as ultra-processed foods in the daily diet plan of children are chips, cookies, frozen pizza, and other types of microwaveable food.

Ultra-Processed Foods in Children's Diet in 2 Decades

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The calorie intake of most children and adolescents in the U.S. was recorded to have two-thirds or 67% from ultra-processed foods. The rate of junk food intake in the children population jumped significantly in 2018, compared to the 61.4% data recorded from 1999. The study included the participation of over 33,000 children that ranges from 2 to 19 years of age across regions of the U.S.

Tufts University's School of Nutrition Science and Policy epidemiology expert and senior author of the study, Fang Fang Zhang, said that the data gathered in the research bring a lot of concern. The analysis is that ultra-processed foods are not safe in the crucial stage of the children and adolescents as they are still establishing their dietary habits that will impact their adulthood.

The effects of an ultra-processed diet will inflict the dietary quality of children and may manifest long-term illnesses on their health. The peer-revied paper regarding the excessive junk food intake of children is published in the journal JAMA, titled "Trends in Consumption of Ultraprocessed Foods Among US Youths Aged 2-19 Years, 1999-2018."

Ultra-processed food as a calorie source is an issue that has been a gradually increasing concern throughout the years. Zhang said that children tend to eat junk foods rather than organic ones due to the convenience brought by industrial processing. This type of processing allows the food to have a long-term shelf life and a more appetizing appeal by altering its chemical composition and physical appearance.

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Ultra-Processed Food, Long-Term Health Risk in Adulthood, and Obesity

Zhang said that most of the food ingredients in the kitchen that are rarely used are the most common ingredients added to the final product of ultra-processed foods. The ingredients, including sugar, corn syrup, and oils, are synthesized through laboratory processes to enhance the flavor and make the junk food enticing. These are the factors why ultra-processed junk foods are very delectable and irresistible to children.

According to a report by BSPR, the effects of junk food in children are reflected in the data provided by the same study, where it shows that unprocessed and minimally processed food intake of children declines from over 28% to 23%.

Based on the research, the identified ultra-processed food contributors in the abnormal dietary practice of children in almost two decades were both ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat food variants. The junk food winners include hamburgers, pizza, and sandwiches, which have a calorie rate that scales from 2.2% to 11.2%.

Under these foods, the group of sweet snacks contributes to over 12% calorie intake in kids, compared to the cakes and ice creams' 10% calorie contribution back in 1999.

Ultra-processed foods were also the main culprit in the increasing overeating habits and obesity, according to the National Institutes of Health study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, titled "Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake."

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