U.S. Kids Are Eating More ‘Ultraprocessed’ Foods

TUESDAY, Aug. 10, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Frozen burgers, pizza pockets and toaster strudel. Energy drinks and sugary sodas. Fruit leather and potato chips. Cookies and cereal bars. Fish sticks and chicken strips.

These sorts of quick-pick manufactured foods are considered “ultraprocessed,” and dietitians believe they could be at the root of America’s obesity epidemic.

A new study has found that two-thirds of the calories consumed by U.S. children and teens come from ultraprocessed foods, an eating pattern that could be driving children toward obesity.

About 67% of calories eaten by kids and teens come from ultraprocessed foods, compared with about 61% two decades ago, according to data gathered by a top federal health survey.

At the same time, total energy consumed from unprocessed or minimally processed foods decreased from about 29% to 24%, the researchers reported.

Convenience today could be contributing to an unhealthier life for children, said senior researcher Dr. Fang Fang Zhang, an associate professor with the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy, in Boston.

“We are all busy in this modern society. We have less time to cook everything from scratch. But we seem to be relying too much on ultraprocessed foods,” Zhang said. “It’s a signal for us to do something about this, given the obesity rate is still very high in U.S. children.”

About one in every five children are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ultraprocessed foods contain ingredients that promote obesity

The concept of “ultraprocessed” foods is relatively new, first established by Brazilian dietary experts in 2017 as part of a new classification system called NOVA, and intended to consider how food is manufactured as part of its nutritional impact on humans.

“Food processing itself may have an impact on health because processing changes the physical structure and chemical composition of foods,” Zhang explained. “People who eat ultraprocessed foods tend to be fatter and they tend to consume a high amount of calories.”

Ultraprocessed foods are made largely of industrial substances derived from the heavy processing of “whole” foods — examples include high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and soy protein isolate — along with chemicals designed to add color, flavor or shelf life to the product.

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