Does your child eat too much junk food? Vincent Iannelli, MD of VeryWell Family, a pregnancy and parenting resource, warned that excessive consumption of junk food contributes to the current childhood obesity epidemic.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a UN agency, overweight and obesity prevalence among children and adolescents aged five to 19 skyrocketed from 4% in 1975 to over 18% in 2016. WHO stated that 19% of boys and 19% of girls were overweight. Within this age group, over 340 million of them were overweight or obese in 2016.
In 1975, under 1% of children and adolescents below five to 19 were obese. But in 2016, an additional 124 million children and adolescents (6% of girls and 8% of boys) were obese. In 2018, about 40 million children below five years old were overweight or obese.
Kids and Junk Food Ads
Commissioned by the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition, the University of Liverpool analyzed advertisements showed during some of the TV programs popular with kids in February 2017 to indicate how many HFSS (high in fat, sugar, and salt) ads children were exposed to during the shows they watch most. The report found that on average, 59% of the food and beverage advertisements broadcasted before and during the programs monitored would likely be classified as HFSS by the nutrient profile model. This meant that the ads would likely be banned from being shown on kids' TV.
During the 16-hour study period, 24% were classified as miscellaneous as the ads did not market a product suitable for nutrient profiling such as supermarket ads, vitamins, etc. Only 17% of the ads were healthier and suitable for kids' TV. The report broke down the 59% average. “The Voice,” ITV’s flagship primetime show, was watched by an average of 731, 625 children per episode during the study period. It found that 75% of all food and drink ads would likely be banned from children’s TV.
During E4’s popular soap “Hollyoaks,” 65% of all ads shown would likely be banned. The show was viewed by an average of 140,225 children. CH4’s “The Simpsons” was viewed by 239,375 kids and 58% of ads would likely be banned. Respectively, 43% and 8% of ads shown during ITV’s Coronation Street (350,975 children) and Ninja Warriors (695,500 children) would likely be banned.
In just 30 minutes, children were exposed to nine HFSS ads in an episode of “Hollyoaks” on E4. Between 8-9 pm, 12 HFSS ads were shown on an episode of “The Voice.” The most common type of food and beverage ads was marketing for fast food chains and meals (36%), followed by supermarket advertisements (14%). This is due to “The Voice” and “Hollyoaks” being sponsored by takeaway brands. Hence, the ads of these brands were shown at the start and end of every break during each show to build brand loyalty.
How Much Do American Kids Consume Fast Food?
The US’ national public health institute Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 34.3% of children and teens aged between two and 18 consumed pizza, fried chicken, or some other dish prepared in a fast-food chain, cited Karen Kaplan of Los Angeles Times, a news source on publishing content on Southern California and the world.
12.1% of these children would get over 40% of their daily calories in the form of fast food. An additional 10.7% would trace 25% to 40% of their daily calories to a fast-food establishment. 11.6% of children would get fewer than 25% of their calories from one of these fast-food restaurants. On average, American kids would get 12.4% of their calories from a fast food source each day.
Kids who belong to families close to the poverty line consumed fast food for 11.5% of their daily calories. On average, those away from the poverty line counted on fast food for 13% of their daily calories. Interestingly, children between two and 11 years consumed less fast food than adolescents between 12 to 19 years old. On a typical day, fast food represented 8.7% of the calories consumed by younger children versus 16.9% for older children. Additionally, Asian-American children averaged fewer calories (8%) compared with Latino kids (11.2%), white kids (13.1%), and 13.9% for African-American kids.
How Can Parents Control Their Child’s Penchant for Junk Food?
1. Learn to Recognize Junk Food
Junk food can become energy-dense due to sugar or fat like donuts and candy. It can also include high-fat foods such as fast food (Ex: tacos, hamburgers) and snacks. Foods high in salt are also considered as junk food. It is also recommended to check the food label.
For example, if a product contains over 35% of calories from fat—with the exception of low-fat milk— it is most likely a junk food. Snacks that contain more than 200 calories per serving and over 200 mg per serving for salt are also junk food.
2. Encourage Healthy Eating Habits
Jeanne Segal Ph.D. and Lawrence Robinson of Help Guide, a guide to promoting mental health and wellness, recommended focusing on your child’s overall diet rather than a specific food. They should consume more whole, minimally processed food as much as possible. You should also be a good role model; avoid telling your child to eat their vegetables while you’re eating chips.
It is recommended to make healthy snacks available such as pure fruit juice, fruits, and vegetables. You can also mask the taste of healthy foods. For example, you can add shredded carrots to mashed potato or a sweet dip to apple slices.
3. Avoid Bribing or Rewarding Your Child With Junk Food
Parents tend to bribe their kids with chocolate or unhealthy food to force them to help out with chores or finish an assignment, noted Dr. Neha Sanwalka of Huffington Post, a news and opinion website. If you bribe or reward your little one with junk food, they will get the message that it is okay to consume such foods.
4. Establish a “Cheat Day”
Controlling junk food intake doesn’t mean these foods are banned. In fact, it’s almost impossible to stop your child from eating junk food. Dedicate one day in each week where your child can eat their favorite foods—junk food or not. If you impose an absolute ban on such foods, your child may snack on some junk food when you’re not looking. It is also an invitation to cravings and overindulging.
Junk food is delicious, making them a perfect treat for children. However, consumption of unhealthy foods should be limited to prevent unwanted health effects from arising. Make your child’s health a priority by helping them eat a balanced diet.