Is Junk Food Killing Our Kids (And Their Kids, Too)?



The statistics are alarming: practically 20 percent of kids and teenagers in America certify as obese. Obesity is far more than a cosmetic problem. Overweight kids are most likely to develop conditions like metabolic syndrome, hypertension, asthma and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. They are likewise more likely to become obese adults, raising the risk of developing a wide range of conditions, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as sudden death.

Moms and dads have the power to influence particular lifestyle motorists of obesity, like being positive role models for physical activity and limiting the quantity of unhealthy foods brought into the house. Nevertheless, it’s becoming progressively clear that youth obesity is more than a familial problem It’s systemic.

Our Environment Fuels Obesity

Numerous factors are driving the quickly increasing rates of childhood weight problems. A significant contributor is what professionals call our obesogenic environment. This milieu cultivates weight gain by, for example, encouraging sedentary behavior and the intake of ultra-processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) include what can best be referred to as food-like compounds and numerous additives, developed around massive amounts of salt, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats. Packaged cookies, cakes, cereals, snack foods and soft drinks are prevalent examples. Kids and teen-agers acquire two-thirds of their calories from these manufactured edibles.

Over the previous couple of years, research studies investigating UPF’s have yielded constant results: eating a lot of these foods is extremely bad for your health. Kids’ cravings for UPFs has actually been connected to tv marketing for years. Now, social media has jumped on the bandwagon.

Social network: A Heavyweight Contender

A current research study funded by Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation connected young people’s intake of “unhealthy food” with their involvement in social networks. A few of these children spent as much as 8 hours a day in front of their screens, viewing more than 25 million food and drink ads over the course of the year. Over 90% of these ads were for junk food.

Other research has shown that ads for unhealthy foods, which flawlessly mix advertising for fast food restaurants and made foods like soda with smart home entertainment are disproportionally targeted at Black and Hispanic kids and teenagers. Regretfully, they make use of existing inequalities. These include the truth that UPFs are more cost effective than healthy entire foods and more available if, like numerous disadvantaged children, you live in a “food dessert.”

Does the Buck Stop with Mothers?

When kids are obese, it’s easy to blame their moms, who provide the in-utero environment in which they develop and are, most likely, the main gatekeepers of the food they eat. Research seems to support this point of view. A current study released in the medical journal BMJ discovered that the offspring of women who took in a high proportion of UPFs beginning in pregnancy and throughout the childrearing period were 26% most likely to establish obese or obesity.

The remarkable wrinkle to these findings is that the children’s risk was independent of their own consumption of these foods. As these scientists kept in mind, this suggests that vulnerability for undesirable weight gain may be biologically sent to offspring. This conclusion lines up with a significant body of research emerging from the field referred to as the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.

The clinical and historical context for what we now call “nutritional shows” was laid out in a 1998 paper by Dr. Alan Lucas. Generally, when a pregnant lady is undernourished, this deficiency “programs” her fetus to make modifications in essential body systems. These changes increase the offspring’s danger for developing conditions like heart disease and obesity by various mechanisms, consisting of modified patterns of gene expression. Additionally, these vulnerabilities can be passed on through the generations.

The High Cost of Cheap Food

Dr. Kent Thornburg, Director of the Center for Developmental Health at the Oregon Health & Science University has connected these weak points with the intake of junk food. 3 generations of Americans experience high-calorie poor nutrition thanks to a diet plan greatly weighted towards UPFs. The high cost of nutrient-deficient, manufactured food is showing up in the epidemics of persistent illness like type 2 diabetes and childhood weight problems.

Do Not Forget Dad

For biological and social factors, it’s simple to blame moms for kids’s problems but that does not suggest dads can slip off the hook. Research study programs, for example, that kids with a mother of healthy weight and an obese father are significantly more likely to be obese than kids with both moms and dads of a healthy weight.

Daddies’ role in transmitting health dangers to offspring has actually been understudied however increasingly more research is revealing that males affect not only their offsprings’ health but also that of succeeding generations. In response a brand-new discipline understood the Paternal Origins of Health and Disease is springing up.

This work was seeded in the 1980’s when a Swedish epidemiologist Lars Bygren had the ability to show that males whose grandpas had actually overeaten right before adolescence died six years earlier than those whose grandpas experienced scarcity at the very same age. Subsequent research showed that young men who smoked simply prior to adolescence (when their sperm cells are forming) produced children who were more likely to be obese, beginning in adolescence.

Thanks to the science of epigenetics, we are learning that human sperm might carry “biological memories” of irregularities that can be moved to offspring. For instance, a 2018 research study of more than 40 million births, released in BMJ found that when dads were older than 45, their infants were 14 percent most likely to be born prematurely and to have a low birth weight. Babies who weigh less than 6 pounds have been shown to be at increased risk for persistent disease later in life, including obesity and heart disease.

Scientists do not have all the answers regarding why children develop weight problems but emerging research study suggests we require to be looking well beyond the here and now, that makes it challenging to develop options that require to be long-term. Just stated, there are no quick fixes. Nevertheless, making sure that males and females of reproductive age consume a nutritious diet plan is an excellent place to begin.

Too, is fixing our food culture. Everyone– guys, ladies and kids– needs to lower our usage of UPFs. This will need broadly-based social support, from individuals like public health experts, government policy makers and school authorities.

The high expense of inexpensive food is a problem that has been brewing for generations. It will not be repaired in a day.

Selected Resources

Donkin, I. Obesity and Bariatric Surgery Drive Epigenetic Variation of Spermatozoa in Humans. Cell Metabolism 2016.

Khandwala, Y et al. Association of adult age with perinatal results between 2007 and 2016 in the United States: population based mate research study. BMJ 2018.

Lucas, A. Programming by early nutrition: an experimental approach. The Journal of Nutrition 1998.

Pembrey, M, et al. Human transgenerational actions to early-life experience. Possible effect on advancement, health and biomedical research. Journal of Medical Genetics 2014.

Potvin-Kent, M. Social media Conversations about unhealthy food and drinks in Canada: An analysis of brands frequently marketed to kids. The Outlive Lab 2022.

Soubry, A. POHaD: Why we ought to study future daddies. Ecological Epigenetics 2018.
Thornburg, K The Epidemic of Chronic Disease and Understanding Epigenetics TEDx Talks 2015.

Wang, Y et al. Maternal consumption of ultra-processed foods and subsequent risk of offspring overweight or weight problems: results from three potential accomplice research studies. BMJ 2022.

Judith Finlayson is a journalist and bestselling author with a longstanding interest in health and nutrition. Her newest book, You Are What Your Grandparents Ate: What You Need to Know About Nutrition, Experience, Epigenetics, and the Origins of Chronic Disease, was released in 2019. It has actually been equated into 6 foreign-language editions, including French, German, Spahis and Japanese. Visit her at

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