When junk food kills more people than smoking does

Launched in the United States, where the consumption of ultra-processed foods is one of the worst habits, National Junk Food Day is an annual reminder of the dangers of unhealthy food. Indeed, it is thought to be responsible for one in five deaths, even more than smoking! Let’s take a look at the situation with Dr Anjuli Gunness, endocrinologist and diabetologist at the Bon Pasteur Clinic.

What does ‘junk food’ means? ‘Junk food refers to eating anything that is considered unhealthy or unbalanced. This can be an excess or a lack of what one needs, or a very poor food quality’, explains Dr Gunness. Deep-fried or high-fat, high-salt or high-sugar foods are the most common examples.

Dr Gunness is adamant. ‘Everything we consume directly affects our health. Therefore, junk food can lead to many medical issues’, she says. For instance, a high carbohydrate and sugar diet can lead to significant weight gain, sometimes even to serious obesity. ‘We have found evidence that link obesity to more than 200 medical conditions, such as cancers, diabetes and sleep apnea’, she adds.

Eating fatty or fried foods can lead to high cholesterol and is a significant risk factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. A diet high in salt and processed foods can increase blood pressure and lead to many heart and kidney problems, while excessive consumption of meat and industrial products is likely to cause some types of cancer.

‘Other lesser-known health problems are also caused by improper eating, since it can result in certain vitamin and mineral shortages. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to anemia and affect the nerve endings in the feet’, adds Dr Gunness. While sugar – a widely used additive in our food – is known to be addictive, other products have become subject to the influence of social behaviour because they are associated with special festive occasions and celebrations.

‘I think it’s time to stop rewarding people, especially children, with sugary foods and to redefine what we want to associate with these special and festive moments’, advises Dr Gunness. While this is, for the most part, a matter of conditioning, it also reflects a real societal reality. Indeed, these foods, in addition to being unhealthy, are also affordable, thus turning them into products of first choice for less well-off households.

Is it possible to eat healthily and indulge once in a while? ‘It depends on what “indulging” means. For one person it might be a food binge, for another it might be two biscuits’, says Dr Gunness. She believes that moderation is the answer, but also proper hygiene and nutrition information, especially for people with diabetes, where a little indulgence can quickly turn into a real danger. ‘I want my patients to have a healthy relationship with food and learn to eat well – and not necessarily less – without fear, while pleasing themselves. This requires a dietary education’, explains Dr. Gunness.

According to the WHO, junk food has nowadays global health consequences as it kills 11 million people every year, while tobacco is responsible for more than 7 million deaths and hypertension for more than 9 million. The organisation advises people to choose diets high in fruits, vegetables, pulses and cereals, low in salt and sugar, and to favour unsaturated fats – found in fish, avocado, nuts and olive, sunflower or rapeseed oil.

Those healthy practices start from the cradle, as the organisation believes that breastfeeding has numerous long-term benefits, including reducing the risk of overweight, obesity and non-transmittable diseases such as diabetes. Providing optimal nutrition at the time of child feeding would then consolidate these health benefits. An additional incentive to ensure your child’s optimum health!

Should you wish to adopt a healthier lifestyle, do not hesitate to contact us on 401 95 00. We will support you in every step towards a better quality of life.


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