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The Surge In Junk Food Consumption: Exploring The Harm On Health

By Ruth Tang
Opinion The Surge In Junk Food Consumption: Exploring The Harm On Health
THU, 20 JUN 2024 LISTEN

In recent years, the consumption of junk foods has surged, becoming an integral part of modern lifestyles, particularly among the youth and affluent demographics. This trend is alarming health experts, as the proliferation of junk food poses severe risks to individual health and safety.

While convenient and appealing, the detrimental effects of excessive processed food intake are profound, demanding urgent attention and action. For the youth, junk food represents a symbol of freedom and rebellion, often associated with social gatherings and peer acceptance.

Meanwhile, the affluent are drawn to junk food as a symbol of status and convenience, indulging in lavish meals without considering the long-term health consequences.

Junk foods are foods that are typically high in calories, kilojoules, sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, while lacking essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Junk foods are so called because they do not play a role in healthy eating, especially if one eats too much of them.

They are also known as ‘discretionary foods' or ‘optional foods', this is because they provide little or no essential nutrients and are consumed primarily for enjoyment rather than for meeting nutritional needs. Common examples include burgers, fries, pizzas, sugary drinks, candies, and processed snacks. Despite their palatability and immediate gratification, the excessive consumption of junk foods can lead to a myriad of health issues.

A licensed nutritionist at Diet Array Health, Musherifa Sungbawiera Amadu, in an interview, emphasised that the constituents of junk foods such as high calories, sugars, fats and low nutrient level are not safe for the body. “Eating too much of these foods can result in health implications such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases when so much cholesterol, sugars, calories and other harmful elements in the food accumulates in the body,” she said.

Research has shown that junk foods have undergone a rapid evolution, propelled by factors such as globalisation, which has facilitated the widespread availability and marketing of processed and fast food products across borders, contributing to the rapid evolution and proliferation of junk foods worldwide.

Also, urbanisation is another significant contributor to the trend of junk food consumption in recent times, in the sense that it has led to increased access to convenient stores, fast food outlets, and processed food options, promoting higher consumption of junk foods among urban populations including Accra and Kumasi.

Again, the rapid expansion and widespread presence of fast food chains in various communities especially in urban centres have made unhealthy food options readily available and easily accessible to consumers, thereby contributing to increased consumption of junk foods.

What began as occasional indulgence has transformed into a daily habit for many, driven by the convenience and affordability offered by fast food establishments. Moreover, aggressive marketing strategies, celebrity endorsements, and widespread availability have normalised the consumption of junk foods, embedding it into societal norms.

However, the issue of forgetting or ignoring how detrimental it can be to human health has become increasingly prevalent and calls for attention and caution.

The Harm
In an interview with a senior medical officer at the Obuasi Government Hospital, Dr. Bright Obeng Asare, he emphasised that junk foods have nothing to offer the human body. “It does more harm than good to our health,” he added.

Junk food is often high in unhealthy fats (commonly found in fries and processed foods), sodium, and refined sugars, can contribute to cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, arterial plaque buildup, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Moreover, junk foods are often laden with saturated and trans-fats, which can elevate levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL (bad)) cholesterol in the blood. This can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition characterised by the buildup of cholesterol-rich plaques in the arteries, narrowing them and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Dr. Obeng Asare further explained that the high levels of refined sugars and simple carbohydrates in junk food can contribute to insulin resistance and ultimately lead to type 2 Diabetes. Regular consumption of sugary beverages and snacks can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, putting additional strain on the body’s insulin production and regulation.

Then again, excessive consumption of junk foods, especially those high in salt and processed ingredients, can put a strain on the kidneys. High sodium intake can lead to hypertension and kidney damage over time. Additionally, the presence of additives and preservatives in processed foods may further burden the kidneys as they work to filter out toxins.

Consumption of junk food, particularly those high in fructose such as sugary beverages and processed snacks, can contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Excessive intake of fructose can overwhelm the liver’s ability to metabolise it, leading to the accumulation of fat in the liver and potentially progressing to more severe liver damage.

“Junk foods are highly concentrated in fats, sugar, salts and other calories which cause a lot of heart related diseases such as heart failure, pericardial, and coronary artery diseases. The inability of the body to break down the food leads to excessive accumulation of fats which causes high cholesterol level in our bodies thereby affecting the liver and metabolism system. Also, the chemical additives, artificial colors and preservatives in those foods are not useful to the body, they rather cause harm,” Dr. Obeng Asare stated.

Junk food is typically high in calories but low in essential nutrients, leading to excessive weight gain and obesity when consumed regularly. The combination of high sugar, fat, and salt content in many junk foods can disrupt appetite regulation mechanisms, leading to over-eating and weight gain.

Sungbawiera Amadu also explained that junk foods lack fibre, therefore, consuming such foods too much has the potential of putting one at a risk of getting constipation or gastrointestinal disorders because the body may lack fibre to aid digestion.

Also, according to a nutrition officer at the Lambussie District Administration, Edward Kuuberme Naapong, “Excessive consumption of junk foods is not good. They pose health hazards to us by increasing blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes, as well as contributing to cardiovascular diseases.”

The Urgent Need for Change
“We encourage people to avoid junk foods or too much of them to ensure a good health,” Mr. Kuuberme Naapong added.

Addressing the epidemic of junk food consumption requires a multifaceted approach involving individuals, communities, governments, and the private sector. Education and awareness campaigns are essential to inform the public about the risks associated with junk foods and promote healthier dietary choices.

Regulatory measures, such as taxes on sugary beverages and restrictions on advertising to children, can mitigate the influence of junk food marketing. Additionally, promoting access to affordable, nutritious foods and incentivising healthy eating habits are crucial steps in combating the prevalence of junk food in society.

As junk food continues to dominate modern diets, and also serve as businesses and source of income for individuals and organisations, the urgency to address its detrimental effects on health and safety cannot be overstated. By acknowledging the risks, advocating for change, and prioritising health-conscious behaviours, individuals and societies can mitigate the impact of junk foods and pave the way for a healthier future.

By Ruth Tang
University Of Media, Arts and Communication -Institute Of Journalism (UniMAC-IJ)

Email Address: [email protected]

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