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An epidemic called ‘Junk food’

nephroplus | February 25, 2020

Article by

Dr. S Krishnan, MBBS, MD, DNB(Nephro), Nephrologist at NephroPlus Vijaya Hospital, Hyderabad.

Walk into any market place, mall, exhibition ground, tourist spot, college canteen – any time from dawn to dusk and beyond – you will find food courts, vendors, and food outlets dishing out variety of cuisines.

Fast food industry – more aptly referred to as ‘junk food ‘- is rapidly growing due to the urbanization. This is a universal phenomenon more so in India. Items like – pizza, pasta, burgers, French fries, carbonated drinks, muffins, donuts, chocolates, potato chips and the variety of crisps under various big brand names – are slowly ruining the youth, their food habits and attitude.

Added to this are the various on-line delivery agencies who come out with attractive offers that anyone would succumb. This attracts people of all age groups though predominantly the youth. There is a paradigm shift in the outlook –attitude, food choices, – from the traditional boiled, high fiber home cooked to processed , high calorie, fried, with many additives referred to as ‘ hot n spicy’ in common parlance.

These items fall into three categories.

Processed (ready to consume) foods

  • Condensed milk, cream milk, cheeses, cured traditional ham, bacon, canned and bottled fruit, breads (white and whole), beer, and wine

Processed culinary ingredients

  • Salt, sugar, honey, vegetable oils (olive, sunflower, corn), chili, butter, and lard

Ultra-processed foods

  • Custard; flan; pudding; ice cream; ham; processed meat sausage/meatballs; potato chips; breakfast cereals; pizza, including pre-prepared pies; margarine; cookies; chocolate cookies; muffins; doughnuts; croissant cakes; carbonated drinks; artificially sugared beverages; fruit drinks; milkshakes; instant soups and creams; croquettes; mayonnaise; and alcoholic drinks produced by fermentation followed by distillation such as whisky, gin, and rum

Ultra-processed foods, defined as “formulations of food substances often modified by chemical processes and then assembled into ready-to-consume hyper-palatable food and drink products using flavours, colours, emulsifiers and other cosmetic additives. These foods include savoury snacks, reconstituted meat products; pre prepared frozen dishes, and soft drinks. There has been a growing body of evidence associating consumption of such foods with poor diet quality, increased cardiovascular risk factors (eg, dyslipidaemia, hypertension), and adverse health outcomes such as obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Prospective cohort studies in adults found a link between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and a higher hazard of developing cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and hypertension.

A study has found consuming too many energy drinks may increase blood pressure and disrupt heart rhythm. Energy drinks are readily accessible and commonly consumed by teens and young adults. Energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine, taurine, and other stimulating substances, and their safety has always been debated. These drinks may increase the risk of sudden cardiac death due to increase in BP and prolonged QT interval, which can lead to life-threatening arrhythmia

Net result is all there for us to see – obesity, hypertension, lipid disorders, bowel disorders and its consequences. Some of the additives used in preparing these food items are suspected carcinogens. Fast foods are rich in saturated fats, Trans fats, simple carbohydrates, sodium, MSG – all factors implicated in Coronary heart disease, Diabetes, and Hypertension. The excess energy intake due to the calorie-dense items frequently leads to obesity.

We also are aware of the problems of poor hygiene during the preparation of these dishes, storage, and handling – and the consequences thereof. Junk foods have been implicated in several other health problems – Dental cavities in children, child hood obesity, renal dysfunction, and poor immunity.

Junk food consumption is addictive and has long-term consequences. Let us look around our neighborhood. Look at the incidence of kidney failure, hypertension, Diabetes, fatty liver disease, cardiac disorders, obesity, cancers . – All are attributed to changing life styles and food habits.  All these carry significant mortality and morbidity.

Food habits & culture of consuming vegetables and fruits – begins at home. The parents have a major responsibility in instilling these.

Let’s educate the children about the value of dietary fiber, micro nutrients, ill effects of preservatives, refined foods, trans fats etc. This should be part of the school curriculum. Repeatedly, we need to educate the children regarding the adverse health effects of processed/fast/junk food.

This has to be done in every household, work place, street corner, schools and colleges and public places. Let’s spread the message – Fast food addiction is an invitation to disaster. Sooner we realize and take appropriate corrective measures – the better.

I would go a step ahead in recommending that all junk food outlets should carry statutory warning  mentioning that it could be ‘injurious to health’. The health authorities need to act on this unregulated market

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