Junk food has taken over the daily diet of children like never before contributing to the growing epidemic of obesity that’s making the little ones susceptible to heart diseases, diabetes, blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor bone health, later in life. The popularity of ultra-processed foods has been on rise from the past few decades and can be one of the primary reasons why children are accumulating more fat in their bodies. Be it burger and pizza or the seemingly harmless packet of potato chips or chocolate cookies, many such high-calorie, sugary and fatty foods are becoming comfort foods for children who also spend long hours glued to mobile screens and leading an inactive lifestyle. (Also read | World Obesity Day 2024: Healthy habits for kids to prevent childhood obesity)

Obesity may affect the normal body metabolism and can lead to many health complications.(Shutterstock)
Obesity may affect the normal body metabolism and can lead to many health complications.(Shutterstock)

A new analysis published in medical journal The Lancet shows the global rate of obesity has quadrupled in children and doubled in adults since 1990. Obesity may affect the normal body metabolism and can lead to many health complications. Several forms of malnourishment are on rise and junk foods with little nourishment are doing more damage to our body and mind than we ever thought.

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Dr Amit P Ghawade, Consultant- Paediatrician and Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Kharghar, Mumbai in an interview with HT Digital says that it’s not just the high calories in these foods that is becoming a menace but also the harmful additives and preservatives found in processed foods that increase the risk of obesity in children. Due to the high-paced lifestyle, many offer these foods to their children as it’s a convenient choice at times. However, it can take a huge toll on their overall health and well-being.

The problem with junk food

“Consumption of junk food can cause early onset of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, kidney and liver problems, heart disease, and even certain types of cancer later in life. The accessibility and affordability of junk food make it a convenient choice for many individuals struggling with time constraints or financial limitations,” says Dr Ghawade.

Junk food which has little fibre and loads of sugar and salt can mess with out gut health and in turn affect immune function. This can also impact brain development and contribute to behavioural issues in young kids and adolescents. Depression, anxiety, aggression are on rise due to excess intake of these foods.

“Not only this, a diet high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can disrupt the balance of good bacteria in the gut, leading to digestive issues and weakened immune function. Additionally, these nutrient-deficient foods can impact cognitive development and behaviour. Research suggests that diets rich in junk food may increase the risk of mental health disorders like depression and anxiety in children. The habit of reaching for convenient but nutritionally poor options sets a dangerous precedent for future dietary choices,” says Dr Ghawade.

How to encourage children to stop junk food consumption

Educating children about the importance of consuming whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber from an early age is crucial for fostering lifelong healthy eating habits. Dr Ghawade suggests parents can take these measures can parents take to keep their children away from junk food.

Get children involved in meal planning and cooking: Engaging kids in the process of planning and preparing meals can encourage them to explore new foods and cultivate healthy eating habits.

Eliminate unhealthy snacks from your shopping list: By avoiding the purchase of junk food, you remove the temptation for your children to indulge in it. Prioritize whole foods and home-cooked meals instead.

Make nutritious meals more enticing: Enhance the appeal of healthy food by presenting it in creative and enjoyable ways, such as using fruit cutters or arranging vegetables in visually appealing designs.

Be an example: Children often mimic the behaviours of their parents, so making wise food choices and steering clear of unhealthy options can influence your kids to do the same.

Reduce screen time: Research indicates that excessive screen exposure is linked to increased consumption of unhealthy snacks among children. Limiting screen time can help curb this habit.

Provide healthier snack options: When your child craves something sugary or salty, offer nutritious alternatives like fruits, nuts, or popcorn. Remember, instilling good eating practices at home is crucial for fostering a healthy relationship with food for your children.


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