Hyperprocessed Hell

Many news headlines compete for attention by employing a shock factor, 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 the ages of two and 19 years.

Between 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 derive 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 socioeconomic groups. Contrary to expectations, though, being affluent, well-educated, or white does not prevent kids from filling themselves with negative-value pseudo-foods. 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 that guzzling junk food is self-reinforcing behavior that somehow rewires the brain to a state where “hypereating” becomes almost inevitable.

How can smartypants like us be so easily tricked? For Psychology Today, Billi Gordon, Ph.D., suggested that the oldest parts of our marvelously clever brains are still stuck in a more primitive mode:

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”.

A review of Mark Schatzker’s The Dorito Effect points out that food items are now deliberately tailored to be bigger, prettier, and more uniform in size, while flavor has taken a distant back seat. It goes on to say,

At the same time, technology now lets us produce in the lab the very flavors that have been lost on the farm. And the result is that we have utterly transformed what, and how much, we eat.

[W]e have interfered with a highly sophisticated chemical language that evolved to guide our nutrition. Evolution did not program us to get fat — we’ve simply tricked ourselves into craving the wrong foods.

Yes, the industry intentionally engineers the natural flavor out, and then adds chemicals that supposedly taste like natural flavors. That only sounds crazy because it is.

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
Source: “The Dorito Effect,” MarkSchatzker.com, undated
Image by George Redgrave/CC BY-ND 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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