According to one recent study that was published in the medical journal JAMA, roughly two-thirds of the calorie intake for kids in America comes from ultra-processed foods.
What are ultra processed foods? These are going to be food items in the grocery store that are defined as those convenient ready-to-eat snacks that contain very little nutrition.
Think food items like pizza, cookies, chips, and the like.
In 2019 it was seen that roughly 5 million American children were obese, this is a problem which impacts families all over the U.S. and about 1 in 6 children and adolescents in the U.S.
This comes after years of education from health experts and the media on exercising more and eating better. Every morning millions of Children are going to head to the table to eat breakfast or bring a snack with them to go and that might be granola bars, cereal, breakfast tarts, and other similar items.
Some might even reach for fruit snacks or fruit drinks thinking that those are the 'healthier' options but these too can be loaded with added sugars and might not provide the overall sort of nutrition profile that people assume they do.
Still today there are millions of kids getting the majority of their calories from highly processed foods and it isn't a difficult question as to why that might be. These foods are cheaper, they are fast and convenient, they are filling, and to many who eat and enjoy them they taste great too.
Despite the years of education on the dangers of these sorts of junk foods in our diet we see that today for kids they are the majority of what they eat. The highly processed junk foods have become a larger part of the diet overall.
What are the most popular snacks?
It looks like for many kids the majority of calories are coming from ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat dishes like frozen pizza and burgers, after that it is packaged sweet snacks and desserts.
For researchers that have looked into the bad snack habits of kids they have found that there was no statistical difference with parental education and family income. Regardless of money or education this is what kids want, the cheap & fast junk food that they find an abundance of at the store.
Where are they making progress though?
In recent years researchers have found that the intake of high sugar sodas and sugar sweetened drinks is dropping. There are many companies now offering sugar free beverages, ones that are sweetened with stevia for example instead of aspartame, and these are growing in the market in demand today.
Researchers suggest that education on those drinks is working and now more education needs to be done around harmful snacks like doughnuts, cookies, brownies, and cakes etc. For those ultra processed foods they often will have a higher percent of their calories coming from carbs and added sugars, they also have been found to have higher levels of sodium, with less fiber and less protein.
Food Processing Risk
"Food processing is an often-overlooked dimension in nutrition research. We may need to consider that ultraprocessing of some foods may be associated with health risks, independent of the poor nutrient profile of ultraprocessed foods generally," - Zhang.
Highly processed foods represent more than 60% of the calories in food we buy from the store in the U.S.
The majority Of U.S. packaged food is highly processed and these items make up the majority of what we see being sold in grocery stores around the world today. Despite many knowing better and trying to eat better it is still a struggle to get away from the convenience, taste, and affordability, that many of these food items provide.