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  • David Kirsch

Ultra - Processed Foods and the Health of Our Children - A Worrisome Trend



According to research published in the medical journal JAMA this week, ultra - processed foods - such as frozen pizza, microwave meals, packaged snacks and desserts - accounted for 67% of calories consumed in 2018, up from 61% in 1999. The research was based on a study that analyzed the diet of 33,795 children and adolescents nationwide. Let’s stop and think about that for a second. Analyzing almost two decades worth of data has confirmed that children and teens in the U.S. now get more than 2/3 of their calories from ultra - processed foods.


Not all ultra - processed foods are created equally. Some are fortified with vitamins, are altered to enhance flavor, and make the foods more affordable and extend shelf life. Sadly, many [most] ultra - processed foods are less healthy, with more sugar, salt and less fiber, and, are being consumed by children and adolescents in alarming amounts.


Is it a coincidence that childhood obesity has quadrupled to almost 20% since the 70’s? Whereas consumption of ultra - processed foods isn’t the only reason for the exponential rise, they are undoubtedly a leading factor! In our fast paced, frenetic lives, we are opting for ready - to - eat/heat meals such as take out frozen pizza and burgers - whether beef or veggie, and consuming too many packaged sweet snacks and desserts, compromising our children’s health.


This is part of the meta - conversation we are having at Just For The Children as the current food system is structured to promote and ‘glorify’ the overconsumption of ultra - processed foods through highly targeted strategies and ads on television, social media and apps that focus on youths and specifically Black and Latino youths and the high availability of these products in schools. What I found interesting in the study though was that the results were quite democratic - neither education level of parents nor family income had any impact of consumption.


The news is not all bleak though, as research has shown that efforts made to curb consumption of sugary drinks through soda taxes, have been effective. Might the imposing of taxes on ultra - processed foods be equally effective? That, in addition to reinforcing the importance of eating healthy, balanced foods, meals and snacks.


This is a Meta - Conversation. We will need help from large food manufacturers, schools, parents and families to end this alarming trend. Childhood Obesity is the Silent Pandemic of our generation, that if left unchecked, No Vaccine Will Cure.