Junk Food Indicted on Many Counts

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You’ve heard about “negative-calorie” foods, which take so much energy to chew and/or digest that they actually burn more calories than they contain. Whether or not that’s valid, it’s an interesting concept, and a terminology that can be borrowed. Maybe some things should be defined as negative-value food.

On one end of the spectrum, there are foods that contain actual vitamins, minerals, etc. In the middle would be something neutral like, say, styrofoam pellets, with no nutritional value. Then, in the dangerous range, is stuff that contains such paltry nutritional value that it’s far outweighed by the other ingredients, including weird chemicals additives. Not only does it fail to do any good, it does harm. That could be a definition of junk food.

Often synonymous with junk food is fast food, as in, “Let’s grab a burger.” Food prepared with reverence or even minimum consciousness is different in quality from food that is “grabbed.” We recently listed some of the medical conditions associated with childhood obesity, and, to the astonishment of no one, a lot of the same problems are associated with junk food.

In Canada, more than 10% of young children suffer from asthma, and their numbers continue to grow. Researchers at the University of Alberta looked into the causes. They found, first, that their results have confirmed other studies in the matter of breastfeeding, which appears to have a protective effect, lowering the risk of children developing asthma. So far, so good.

Then another factor came into the picture, seeming to negate the benefits of breastfeeding which had given kids a good head start against asthma. When they grew old enough to be eating fast food, they weren’t much better off than the bottlefed children. Sharon Kirkey reports for the Montreal Gazette:

Fast foods contain high levels of sodium that can increase the risk for wheezing, more ‘twitchy’ airways and hyper-reactive lungs… Fast foods are also high in fat, and low in antioxidants, which might also play a role in the development of asthma.

Relying on extensive questionnaires filled out by parents, the scientist learned that kids who dine on fast food more often than once or twice a week are much more likely to be asthmatic. Apparently, this poor diet cancels out any previously gained benefits they might have enjoyed from being breastfed as babies.

Another team of researchers, at Australia’s University of Newcastle, confirmed that meals high in fat can trigger asthma attacks. They ascertained this by measuring the neutrophils (specialized white blood cells that quickly rush to the site of an injury) in asthma patients after they consumed very different types of meals:

One group was asked to eat a high-fat meal that included a fast food hamburger and an order of hash browns. The meal included 1000 calories with 52 percent of the calories coming from fat. Another group was given a 200 calorie low-fat meal that included reduced fat yogurt, just 13 percent of the calories coming from fat.

Among the participants eating high-fat meals, not only did their neutrophils react as if to a crisis, but their albuterol didn’t work as well as usual — and albuterol is the medication inside those inhalers that asthma sufferers carry and use to ward off asthma attacks.

Fast food leads to obesity, and of course obesity always makes arthritis worse, because the abused joints have extra weight to carry around. But there may be more to it. From victims of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence, worth following up on, that dietary change can make a difference between immobility and movement, between terrible discomfort and freedom from pain. Arthritis sufferers who abstain from junk food, and even from some foods that are beneficial for most people, and stick to raw foods, are experimenters who appear to have hit on a solution worth investigating.

Proponents of whole foods, natural foods, and organic foods had been grumbling for years about their suspicions that kiddie behavior is influenced by the additives in processed foods. In 2007, the British medical journal The Lancet published a definitive report on the results of research by a team at the University of Southampton. These scientists were looking at behavior, as rated by parents in the areas of restlessness, distractibility, fidgeting, and general hyperactivity. They found that a number of food dyes and especially the preservative sodium benzoate could be linked to these undesirable traits. Claudia Wallis, reporting for Time, writes,

The Lancet study is the first to nail down a link between artificial ingredients and hyperactivity, though the connection has long been suspected and was the basis for the Feingold Diet, which eliminates all artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives and was popularized in the 1970s as a treatment for ADHD.

Any number of conditions have been connected with junk food, from cystic acne to cancer susceptibility to acceleration of the aging process. So why take chances? If a child is already obese or suffering from some other systemic malfunction, or even if everything seems fine so far, either way, eliminating fast food and junk food is well worth the effort.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Higher asthma rates linked to fast food,” Montreal Gazette
Source: “Asthma Sufferers Beware of Fast Food,” Tech Jackal, 05/16/10
Source: “Hyper Kids? Cut Out Preservatives,” Time, 09/06/07
Image by _gee_, used under its Creative Commons license.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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