Junk food is a pejorative term, dating back at least to the 1950s, describing food that is high in calories from sugar or fat, with little dietary fiber, protein, vitamins or minerals. It can also refer to high protein food like meat prepared with saturated fat. The term HFSS foods (high in fat, salt and sugar) is used synonymously. Fast food and fast food restaurants are often equated with junk food, although fast foods cannot be categorically described as junk food. Concerns about the negative health effects resulting from a junk food-heavy diet, especially obesity, have resulted in public health awareness campaigns, and restrictions on advertising and sale in several countries.
Origin of the term
The term junk food dates back at least to the early 1950s, although its coinage has been credited to Michael F. Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in 1972. In 1952, the phrase appeared in a headline in the Lima, Ohio, News, "'Junk Foods' Cause Serious Malnutrition", over a reprint of a 1948 article from the Ogden, Utah, Standard-Examiner, originally titled, "Dr. Brady’s Health Column: More Junk Than Food". In the article, Dr. Brady writes, "What Mrs. H calls 'junk' I call cheat food. That is anything made principally of (1) white flour and or (2) refined white sugar or syrup. For example, white bread, crackers, cake, candy, ice cream soda, chocolate malted, sundaes, sweetened carbonated beverages." The term cheat food can be traced back in newspaper mentions to at least 1916.
In Andrew F. Smith's Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food, junk food is defined as "those commercial products, including candy, bakery goods, ice cream, salty snacks and soft drinks, which have little or no nutritional value but do have plenty of calories, salt, and fats. While not all fast foods are junk foods, most are. Fast foods are ready-to-eat foods served promptly after ordering. Some fast foods are high in calories and low in nutritional value, while other fast foods, such as salads, may be low in calories and high in nutritional value."
Junk food provides empty calories, supplying little or none of the protein, vitamins, or minerals required for a nutritious diet. Many foods, such as hamburgers, pizza, and tacos, can be considered either healthy or junk food, depending on their ingredients and preparation methods. The more highly processed items usually fall under the junk food category, including breakfast cereals that are mostly sugar or high fructose corn syrup and white flour or milled corn.
The United Kingdom's Advertising Standards Authority, the self-regulatory agency for the UK ad industry, uses nutrient profiling to define junk food. Foods are scored for "A" nutrients (energy, saturated fat, total sugar and sodium) and "C" nutrients (fruit, vegetables and nut content, fiber and protein). The difference between A and C scores determines whether a food or beverage is categorized as HFSS (high in fat, salt and sugar; a term synonymous with junk food).
In Panic Nation: Unpicking the Myths We're Told About Food and Health, the junk food label is described as nutritionally meaningless: food is food, and if there is zero nutritional value, then it isn't a food. Co-editor Vincent Marks explains, "To label a food as 'junk' is just another way of saying, 'I disapprove of it.' There are bad diets - that is, bad mixtures and quantities of food - but there are no 'bad foods' except those that have become bad through contamination or deterioration."
According to an article in the New York Times, "Let Us Now Praise the Great Men of Junk Food", "The history of junk food is a largely American tale: It has been around for hundreds of years, in many parts of the world, but no one has done a better job inventing so many varieties of it, branding it, mass-producing it, making people rich off it and, of course, eating it." Cracker Jack, the candy-coated popcorn-and-peanuts confection, is credited as the first popular name brand junk food; it was created in Chicago, registered in 1896, and became the best-selling candy in the world 20 years later.
Popularity and appeal
Junk food in its various forms is extremely popular, and an integral part of modern popular culture. In the US, annual fast food sales are in the area of $160 billion, compared to supermarket sales of $620 billion (a figure which also includes junk food in the form of convenience foods, snack foods, and candy). In 1976, the US Top 10 pop song, "Junk Food Junkie", described a junk food addict who pretends to follow a healthy diet by day, while at night gorges on Hostess Twinkies and Fritos corn chips, McDonald's and KFC. Thirty-six years later, Time placed the Twinkie at #1 in an article titled, "Top 10 Iconic Junk Foods": "Not only...a mainstay on our supermarket shelves and in our bellies, they've been a staple in our popular culture and, above all, in our hearts. Often criticized for its lack of any nutritional value whatsoever, the Twinkie has managed to persevere as a cultural and gastronomical icon."
America also celebrates an annual National Junk Food Day on July 21. Origins are unclear; it is one of around 175 US food and drink days, most created by "people who want to sell more food", at times aided by elected officials at the request of a trade association or commodity group. "In honor of the day," Time in 2014 published, "5 Crazy Junk Food Combinations". Headlines from other national and local media coverage include: "Celebrate National Junk Food Day With… Beer-Flavored Oreos?" (MTV); "National Junk Food Day: Pick your favorite unhealthy treats in this poll" (Baltimore); "Celebrities' favorite junk food" (Los Angeles); "A Nutritionist's Guide to National Junk Food Day" with "Rules for Splurging" (Huffington Post); and "It's National Junk Food Day: Got snacks?" (Kansas City).
As for junk food's appeal, there is no definitive scientific answer, both physiological and psychological factors are cited. Food manufacturers spend billions of dollars on research and development to create flavor profiles that trigger the human affinity for sugar, salt, and fat. Consumption results in pleasurable, likely addictive, effects in the brain. At the same time, massive marketing efforts are deployed, creating powerful brand loyalties that studies have shown will trump taste.
It is well-established that the poor eat more junk food overall than the more affluent, but the reasons for this are not clear. Few studies have focused on variations in food perception according to socio-economic status (SES); some studies that have differentiated based on SES suggest that the economically challenged don't perceive healthy food much differently than any other segment of the population. Recent research into scarcity, combining behavioral science and economics, suggests that, faced with extreme economic uncertainty, where even the next meal may not be a sure thing, judgment is impaired and the drive is to the instant gratification of junk food, rather than to making the necessary investment in the longer-term benefits of a healthier diet.
When junk food is consumed very often, the excess fat, simple carbohydrates, and processed sugar found in junk food contributes to an increased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and many other chronic health conditions. A case study on consumption of fast foods in Ghana suggested a direct correlation between consumption of junk food and obesity rates. The report asserts that obesity resulted in related complex health concerns such upsurge of heart attack rates. Studies reveal that as early as the age of 30, arteries could begin clogging and lay the groundwork for future heart attacks. Consumers also tend to eat too much in one sitting, and those who have satisfied their appetite with junk food are less likely to eat healthy foods like fruit or vegetables.
Testing on rats has indicated negative effects of junk food that may manifest likewise in people. A Scripps Research Institute study in 2008 suggested that junk food consumption alters brain activity in a manner similar to addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin. After many weeks with unlimited access to junk food, the pleasure centers of rat brains became desensitized, requiring more food for pleasure; after the junk food was taken away and replaced with a healthy diet, the rats starved for two weeks instead of eating nutritious fare. A 2007 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that female rats who eat junk food during pregnancy increased the likelihood of unhealthy eating habits in their offspring.
Other research has been done on the impact of sugary foods on emotional health in humans, and has suggested that consumption of junk food can negatively impact energy levels and emotional well-being.
In a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the frequency of consumption of 57 foods/drinks of 4000 children at the age of four and a half were collected by maternal report. At age seven, the 4000 children were given the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), with five scales: hyperactivity, conduct problems, peer problems, emotional symptoms and pro-social behavior. A one standard deviation increase in junk food was then linked to excessive hyperactivity in 33% of the subjects, leading to the conclusion that children consuming excess junk food at the age of seven are more likely to be in the top third of the hyperactivity scale. There was no significant correlation between junk food and the other scales.
Anti-junk food measures
A number of countries have adopted, or are considering, various forms of legislated action to curb junk food consumption. In 2014, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover, released his report, "Unhealthy foods, non-communicable diseases and the right to health", and called for governments to "take measures, such as developing food and nutrition guidelines for healthy diets, regulating marketing and advertising of junk food, adopting consumer-friendly labeling of food products, and establishing accountability mechanisms for violations of the right to health."
An early, high-profile and controversial attempt to identify and curb junk food in the American diet was undertaken by the McGovern Committee (United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, chaired by Senator George McGovern) between 1968 and 1977. Initially formed to investigate malnutrition and hunger in the US, the committee's scope progressively expanded to include environmental conditions that affected eating habits, such as urban decay, then focused on the diet and nutritional habits of the American public. The committee took issue with the use of salt, sugar and fat in processed foods, noted problems with overeating and the high percentage of ads for junk food on TV, and stated that bad eating habits could be as deadly as smoking. The findings were heavily criticized and rebutted from many directions, including the food industry, the American Medical Association, and within the committee itself. In 1977, the committee issued public guidelines under the title, Dietary Goals for the United States, which became the predecessor to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published every five years beginning in 1980 by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
In an attempt to reduce junk food consumption through price control, forms of Pigovian taxation have been implemented. Targeting saturated fat consumption, Denmark introduced the world's first fat-food tax in October, 2011, by imposing a surcharge on all foods, including those made from natural ingredients, that contain more than 2.3 percent saturated fat, an unpopular measure that lasted a little over a year. Hungary has imposed taxes on foods and beverages high in added sugar, fat, and salt. Norway taxes refined sugar, and Mexico has various excises on unhealthy food. On April 1, 2015, the first fat tax in the US, the Navajo Nation's Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014, mandating a 2% junk food tax, came into effect, covering the 27,000 sq mi (70,000 km2) of Navajo reservation; the Act targeted problems with obesity and diabetes among the Navajo population.
Restriction on advertising to children
Junk food that is targeted at children is a contentious issue. In "The Impact of Advertising on Childhood obesity", the American Psychological Association reports: "Research has found strong associations between increases in advertising for non-nutritious foods and rates of childhood obesity." The World Health Organization recommends that governments take action to limit children's exposure to food marketing, stating, "Many advertisements promote foods high in fats, sugar and salt, consumption of which should be limited as part of a healthy diet. ... Food advertising and other forms of marketing have been shown to influence children’s food preferences, purchasing behaviour and overall dietary behaviour. Marketing has also been associated with an increased risk of overweight and obesity in children. The habits children develop early in life may encourage them to adopt unhealthy dietary practices which persist into adulthood, increasing the likelihood of overweight, obesity and associated health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases."
In the UK, efforts to increasingly limit or eliminate advertising of foods high in sugar, salt or fat at any time when children may be viewing are ongoing. The UK government has been criticized for failing to do enough to stop advertising and promotion of junk food aimed at children. A UK parliamentary select committee recommended that cartoon characters advertising unhealthy food to children should be banned, supermarkets should have to remove unhealthy sweets and snacks from ends of isles and checkout areas, local authorities should be able to limit the number of fast food outlets in their area, brands associated with unhealthy foods should be banned from sponsoring sports clubs, youth leagues and tournaments, and social media like Facebook should cut down junk food advertising to children—all are currently just recommendations.
In Australia, a Wollongong University study in 2015 showed that junk food sponsors were mentioned over 1,000 times in a single Australian cricket match broadcast, which included ads, and branding worn on players' uniforms and on the scoreboard and pitch. A coalition of Australian obesity, cancer and diabetes organizations called on Cricket Australia, the sport's governing body, to "phase out sponsorships with unhealthy brands", emphasizing that cricket is a "healthy, family-oriented sport" with children in the audience.
- Comfort food
- Dude food
- Glutamic acid (flavor), common flavoring compounds and their synthetic versions, which may be added to some processed foods, to boost their savoriness
- Health food, foods that tend to be nutrient rich, and may be eaten for their potential benefits to health
- List of food additives
- Nutrient profiling
- Zimmer, Ben (30 Dec 2010). "On Language: Junk". New York Times. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
- "junk food". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
- "junk food". Macmillan Dictionary. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
- O'Neill, Brendon (November 30, 2006). "Is this what you call junk food?". BBC News. Retrieved June 29, 2010.
- Scott, Caitlin (May 2018). "Sustainably Sourced Junk Food? Big Food and the Challenge of Sustainable Diets". Global Environmental Politics. 18 (2): 93–113. doi:10.1162/glep_a_00458. ISSN 1526-3800.
- Parks, Troy (16 Dec 2016). "WHO warns on kids' digital exposure to junk-food ads". American Medical Association.
- Snowdon, Christopher (6 Jun 2018). "The proposed 'junk food' advertising ban is aimed at you, not your children". The Spectator.
- Smith, Andrew F. (5 September 2000). Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food. Greenwood Press. p. x. ISBN 978-0313335273.
- Specter, Michael (2 November 2015). "Freedom from Fries". New Yorker. Retrieved 2019-01-01.
- Smith, Rene. "Fast Food Facts". Science Kids. Retrieved 2019-01-01.
- "Food Marketing to Kids". Public Health Law Center (William Mitchell College of Law). 2010. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
- "Protecting children from the harmful effects of food and drink marketing". World Health Organization. September 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
- "Food Marketing in Other Countries" (PDF).
- Popik, Barry (26 December 2008). "Junk Food". Barry Popik. Archived from the original on 18 March 2015. Retrieved 19 March 2015. "Barry Popik is a contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, Dictionary of American Regional English, Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Yale Book of Quotations and Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. Since 1990 he has also been a regular contributor to Gerald Cohen's Comments on Etymology. He is recognized as an expert on the origins of the terms Big Apple, Windy City, hot dog, hamburger and many other food terms, and he is an editor of the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink." - The Big Apple: About
- O’Conner, Patricia T. and Stewart Kellerman (15 February 2011). "Don't touch my junk food". Grammaphobia. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015.
- Larsen, Joanne. "Can you give me a list of junk foods?". Ask the Dietitian. Retrieved 2019-02-12.
- University of Glasgow (31 October 2013). "Pizza perfect! A nutritional overhaul of 'junk food,' ready-meals is possible". ScienceDaily. Retrieved 14 November 2014.
- "What Makes a Food Junk?". Huffington Post. 4 August 2010.
- Magee, Elaine. "Junk-Food Facts". WebMD.
- "Food: HFSS Nutrient Profiling". ASA. 29 Jun 2017. Retrieved 2019-02-10.
- Feldman, Stanely; Vincent Marks (2005). Panic Nation: Unpicking the Myths We're Told About Food and Health. London: John Blake Publishing. ISBN 9781844541225.
- O'Neill, Brendan (3 October 2005). "Is junk food a myth?". BBC News. London: BBC. Retrieved 10 February 2015. Vincent Marks is an Emeritus Professor of Clinical Biochemistry at the University of Surrey.
- Frenandez, Manny (7 Aug 2010). "Let Us Now Praise the Great Men of Junk Food". New York Times. Retrieved 2018-12-31.
- Petri, Alexandra E. (February 17, 2015). "Where Did Junk Food Come From?". The Daily Meal. Retrieved 2019-04-23.
- Parsons, Russ (Jun 4, 2013). "Cracker Jack: 120-year-old junk food gets new flavors, 'enhanced' prizes". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-04-23.
- Sena, Matt. "Fast Food Industry Analysis 2015 - Cost & Trends". FranchiseHelp. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- "Supermarket Facts". Food Marketing Institute. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- "Larry Groce "Junk Food Junkie"". K-tel International. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- Grossman, Samantha (16 Nov 2012). "Top 10 Iconic Junk Foods". Time. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- Severson, Kim (30 May 2007). "Having a Snack? Make It a Holiday". New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- Valia, Anu (21 July 2014). "Celebrate National Junk Food Day With… Beer-Flavored Oreos?". MTV (Viacom). Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- Pfahler, Eric (21 July 2014). "National Junk Food Day: Pick your favorite unhealthy treats in this poll". WMAR-TV ABC 2 News (Scripps TV Station Group). Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- "Celebrities' favorite junk food". ABC Inc., KABC-TV. 21 July 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- Reinagel, Monica (21 July 2014). "A Nutritionist's Guide to National Junk Food Day". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- Thompson, Jadiann (21 July 2014). "It's National Junk Food Day: Got snacks?". KSHB (Scripps TV Station Group). Retrieved 8 April 2015.
- Ault, Alicia (26 Mar 2015). "Ask Smithsonian: Why Do We Love Junk Food So Much?". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved 2018-12-30.
- Darmon, Nicole; Adam Drewnowski (May 2008). "Does social class predict diet quality?". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 87 (5): 1107–1117. doi:10.1093/ajcn/87.5.1107. "A large body of epidemiologic data show that diet quality follows a socioeconomic gradient. Whereas higher-quality diets are associated with greater affluence, energy-dense diets that are nutrient-poor are preferentially consumed by persons of lower socioeconomic status (SES) and of more limited economic means. ... However, a convincing causal relation between SES indicators and diet quality still remains to be established."
- Paquette, Marie-Claude (July–August 2005). "Perceptions of healthy eating: state of knowledge and research gaps". Canadian Journal of Public Health. 96 (Supplement 3). "This article’s aim is to review and summarize the literature on the perceptions of healthy eating ... Databases, the worldwide web, selected journals and reference lists were searched for relevant papers from the last 20 years. Reviewed articles suggest relative homogeneity in the perceptions of healthy eating despite the studies being conducted in different countries and involving different age groups, sexes and socio-economic status." Also, "...the small number of studies that focused on variations in perceptions according to socio-economic status..."
- Adams, Tim (7 September 2013). "Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 3 April 2015.
- McWilliams, James (4 Aug 2014). "Why Are So Many Low-Income People So Overweight?". Pacific Standard (Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy). Retrieved 3 April 2015.
- Roizman, Tracey. "Reasons Eating Junk Food Is Not Good". SFGate (Demand Media). Retrieved 29 March 2015.
- Searcey, Dionne; Richtel, Matt (2017-10-02). "Obesity Was Rising as Ghana Embraced Fast Food. Then Came KFC". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-10-19.
- "effects of junk food & Beverages on Adolescent's health-A review article". researchgate.net.
- Junk-Food Facts
- Johnson, Paul M.; Kenny, Paul J. (2010). "Addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats: Role for dopamine D2 receptors". Nature Neuroscience. 13 (5): 635–41. doi:10.1038/nn.2519. PMC 2947358. PMID 20348917.
- Goodwin, Jennifer (March 29, 2010). "Junk Food 'Addiction' May Be Real". Bloomberg Business Week. BLOOMBERG L.P. Archived from the original on 19 April 2012.
- Craving for junk food 'inherited' Mothers who eat junk food during pregnancy may be condemning their children to crave the same diet, according to animal tests. BBC News. 14 August 2007. Study title: "A maternal ‘junk food’ diet in pregnancy and lactation promotes an exacerbated taste for ‘junk food’ and a greater propensity for obesity in rat offspring."
- Bullen, James (2017-06-10). "The foods making you feel sad, mad or 'high on life'". ABC News. Retrieved 2017-10-19.
- Wiles, N. J.; Northstone, K.; Emmett, P.; Lewis, G. (2007-12-05). "'Junk food' diet and childhood behavioural problems: results from the ALSPAC cohort". European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 63 (4): 491–498. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602967. ISSN 0954-3007. PMC 2664919. PMID 18059416.
- Saez, Catherine (11 June 2014). "UN Advisor Denounces Junk Food As 'Culprit' In Rising NCDs, Calls For Change". Intellectual Property Watch. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- Anson, Robert Sam (1972). McGovern: A Biography. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. 218–242. ISBN 978-0-03-091345-7.
- Warren Belasco (1989) Appetite for Change: how the counterculture took on the food industry 1966 — 1988, page 148-153, Pantheon Books ISBN 0394543998
- "History of Dietary Guidelines for Americans". US Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
- "Denmark scraps its infamous fat tax after only one year". EurActiv. 14 November 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- Kliff, Sarah (13 November 2012). "Denmark scraps world's first fat tax". Washington Post. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- Bomsdorf, Clemens. "Denmark Scraps Much-Maligned 'Fat Tax' After a Year". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2012-11-14.
- Wright, Alexandra (19 Jun 2017). "Policy lessons from health taxes: a systematic review of empirical studies". BMC Public Health. 17 (1): 583. doi:10.1186/s12889-017-4497-z. PMC 5477308. PMID 28629470.
- Figueroa-Alcantara, Héctor (28 October 2013). "Mexican Senate approves tax scheme for 2014, (in Spanish)". Excelsior. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
- Toppa, Sabrina (30 March 2015). "This Place Just Became the First Part of the U.S. to Impose a Tax on Junk Food". TIME. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
- "The Impact of Advertising on Childhood Obesity". American Psychological Association. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
- Campbell, Denis (21 March 2014). "Children are being 'bombarded' by junk food ads, research has found". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
- Supermarkets must stop discounting unhealthy foods to tackle child obesity, say MPs The Guardian
- 'Ban cartoon characters' on unhealthy food, MPs say BBC
- Hagan, Kate (27 January 2015). "Junk food ads saturate cricket". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
- Ansel, Karen. "30 Surprisingly Healthy Fast Foods". Fitness Magazine (Meredith Corporation). Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- Anthony, Mark (1 Apr 2014). "Understanding Satiation and Satiety". Food Processing. Retrieved 5 April 2015.
- "Junk food is more expensive than healthy food: study, says Dept. of Agriculture study". NY Daily News. Associated Press. May 16, 2012. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
- Center for Public Health Nutrition (University of Washington). "Nutrient Profiling". Center for Public Health Nutrition (University of Washington). Retrieved 24 March 2015.
- Fernandez, Manny (7 August 2010). "Let Us Now Praise the Great Men of Junk Food". New York Times. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- Freedman, David H. (19 Jun 2013). "How Junk Food Can End Obesity". The Atlantic. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- Lehman, Shereen (1 November 2014). "Why Is Junk Food So Popular? Here Are Three Reasons". About.com. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
- Moss, Michael (20 Feb 2013). "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food". New York Times. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- Parker-Pope, Tara (5 Dec 2007). "A High Price for Healthy Food". New York Times. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
- Poti, Jennifer M; Kiyah J Duffey; Barry M Popkin (23 Oct 2013). "The association of fast food consumption with poor dietary outcomes and obesity among children: is it the fast food or the remainder of the diet?". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- Saez, Catherine (11 June 2014). "UN Advisor Denounces Junk Food As 'Culprit' In Rising NCDs, Calls For Change". Intellectual Property Watch. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
- ScienceDaily (15 January 2014). "Fast food not the major cause of rising childhood obesity rates, study finds". ScienceDaily. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- "Empty Calories: What are empty calories?". EnergyFirst. Retrieved 19 March 2015.
|Look up junk food in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|