Study: Kids Eating More Ultra-Processed Food

Aug. 10, 2021
Consumption of ultra-processed foods among American youth is rising, causing concern for long-term health.

Consumption of ultra-processed foods among American youth is rising, causing concern for long-term health, according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Ultra-processed foods accounted for 67% of calories consumed by American children and teenagers in 2018, up from 61% in 1999, according to the study, which analyzed the eating habits of more than 33,000 young consumers. The information was gathered as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control.

The term “ultra-processed” was coined by a Brazilian nutrition professor in 2009. There’s no hard and fast definition, but in general, it refers to food with a high proportion of artificial ingredients or added ingredients that are extracted from other foods, such as added sugar or hydrogenated fat. Diets high in processed foods have been associated with obesity, high blood pressure, cancer and other diseases.

The JAMA study found that, while the share of calories from ultra-processed food increased between 1999 and 2018, the share from unprocessed or minimally processed food dropped, from 28.8% to 23.5%. Among ultra-processed foods, the biggest gain in calories was from ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat meals like takeout or frozen pizza.

A bright spot was a drop in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, from 10.8% to 5.3% of overall calories. The study attributed this to taxes on sugary soda that have been enacted in various U.S. cities.

“We need to mobilize the same energy and level of commitment when it comes to other unhealthy ultra-processed foods such as cakes, cookies, doughnuts and brownies,” one of the researchers told CNN.

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