The Tragedy of Junk Food Addiction in Kids

The Tragedy of Junk Food Addiction in Kids

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tragedy of junk food addiction in kids

This post was originally published on June 18, 2014.

It’s already been proven that rats who are fed junk food give birth to obese offspring, which apparently wasn’t unnerving enough. Now Time Magazine is reporting on a qualitative study of 30,000 kids between the ages of eight and 21 which revealed that they use addictive terminology when discussing their relationships with food, can’t decrease their use of junk food despite negative consequences and display withdrawal symptoms when the junk food isn’t available.

Starting Them Young

Sounds like addiction to me. And the New York Times revealed that the CEO’s who control America’s largest food companies refused, in a secret meeting 15 years ago, to alter this generational cycle, despite the fact that “the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.”

So the endless lobbying, marketing and selling of these products continues as we all watch the rate of childhood diabetes and obesity rise. While marketing doesn’t begin and end with childhood, schools are where manufacturers find their most vulnerable—and contained—audience.

That’s why the food manufacturers have geared their products towards kids, knowing that getting them hooked early is fundamental to the companies’ future health. As Morgan Spurlock and Jamie Oliver learned from their impassioned attempts to rescue schools from their corporate contracts, it’s dauntingly hard to undo decades of mis-feeding our kids.

Preventing Poisonous Lunches

Michelle Obama knows this. She recently delivered a stern speech to the Congressional Republicans who proposed to weaken nutritional standards in student lunches.  She said the stakes on this issue couldn’t be higher and she’s right. And if a government doesn’t act on its citizens’ behalf, who will? The parents—many of whom were raised on these convenience foods?

It’s unsurprising that junk food diets can be addictive since the levels of fat, sodium and sugar are so fiercely concentrated. Only one can of Coke contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, nearly double a child’s recommended allowance per day. That’s right, one can. And every day in this country, kids scarf cheeseburgers laced with ammonia and chicken nuggets made of 50% chicken meat and 50% fat, blood vessels, nerve, connective tissue and ground bone.

Junk Food Dependency

Researchers and academics continue to put the facts out there: they don’t depend on lobbyists’ dollars. Australian scientists found a chemical basis for junk food addiction, locating the psychoactive chemicals these foods create that trigger a change in brain activity. Junk food “increases the release of opioids” in the brains of pregnant rats, whose offspring later not only showed a greater tendency towards passivity and obesity, but also alterations in the reward pathways of their brains. “When we eat foods high in fat and sugar, this increases the release of opioids and the feel-good peptide dopamine in the reward centre of the brain and creates a pleasurable sensation that keeps us going back for more,” said Dr. Beverly Mühlhäusler of the University of Adelaide.

But for kids, the government-supported fast-food band plays on. And it’s tough to expect them to refuse food this culture celebrates. Friday, June 6th was National Doughnut Day. But for far too many kids, that’s no different than any other day in America.

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About Author

Dana Burnell has written for The London Times Sunday Magazine, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, Inside New York and Time Out New York. A former Editorial Assistant at Harvard Review, she’s the received Mellon Foundation Grant and two Fiction Fellowship Grants from Columbia University. She’s written two novels, Mistaken Nonentity and The Tame Man.