A Blast From the Past

Many news headlines employ a shock factor to compete for attention, but once in a while a real jaw-dropper shows up, like this one: “67 percent Of Kids Diets Comprised Of Ultraprocessed Foods.” The reasons why this concept is alarming have been outlined before by Childhood Obesity News, and the situation has only worsened since.

Who is saying this? Journalist Jessica Tucker describes the findings of researchers at Tufts University, where the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy resides. Their subjects were 34,000 minors between ages 2 and 19 years. From 1999 and 2018, “the percentage of ultra-processed food that kids’ diets are made up of jumped from 61 percent to 67 percent.” They’re talking about consumables that are packed with salt and sugar, and deficient in fiber content.

Kids are getting far too many of their daily calories from pre-packaged, ready-to-eat foods that attract recreational eaters, but do little to maintain health. Tucker says,

[…] of the 188 countries in 21 different regions of the world that were surveyed, every single country reported a rise in the cases of obesity… The boys’ rates of obesity rose from 17 percent to 24 percent. For girls, the rates rose from 16 percent to 23 percent.

As often happens, the damage is more apparent among minority populations and in lower socio-economic groups, but being affluent, well-educated, or white does not stop kids from shoveling negative-value pseudo-foods into themselves. Just to alleviate the gloom somewhat, the author does mention that “consumption of sugary drinks decreased from 10.8 percent to 5.3 percent.”

Many factors are involved, and it appears the consumption of junk food is a self-reinforcing behavior that somehow rewires the brain to a state where “hypereating” becomes almost inevitable.

For Psychology Today, Billi Gordon, Ph.D., once advanced a theory about why, in an age of information and awareness, this can happen. Apparently, the oldest parts of our marvelously clever brains are still stuck in a more primitive mode. Gordon wrote,

For the ancients, who were subject to jackal attacks and enduring periods of hunger, greater nutrient content and energy value was good. Hence, the brain consolidated and simplified that into the message, “rich, calorie-dense food is good”.

So while, on one level, a person might be acutely aware of the negative consequences of a junk food diet, on another more basic level we have an instinct that is no longer useful, to consume food that will keep us going for a day or longer, even if our next meal is only hours away. The problem here is that calorie-dense food is not what it used to be.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “67% Of Kids’ Diets Comprised Of Ultra-Processed Foods,” Moms.com, 08/13/21
Source: “A Taste for Bad Boys and Bad Food,” PsychologyToday.com, 10/14/15
Image by Jim O’Neil/CC BY 2.0

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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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