Junk Food for Kids: Risks & Healthy Alternatives

10 Hazardous Effects of Junk Food on Children

Medically Reviewed By
Megha Mukhija (Paediatric Nutritionist)
View more Paediatric Nutritionist Our Panel of Experts

As a parent, one of your biggest responsibilities towards your children is to get them to eat healthy foods. If you’ve got a picky eater at hands, getting him to eat nutritious foods is going to be a task, and if he throws tantrums, one day or the other (when your patience goes for a toss), you’re going to give in and let him have what he desires: junk food! The almost pervading presence of fast food at every corner of the neighbourhood won’t make it any easier. Junk food looks delicious and tastes good too, no doubt, your child finds it irresistible. But the more you give in to his demands and let him have his way, the more his health will be affected! Let’s try to understand what attracts children to junk food and how it affects their health in the long run. Bonus: we also have some tips that will help you convince your child to start eating healthy!

What Attracts Kids to Junk Food?

Most of the times, the fast-food establishments are located in such a setting that promises fun and exciting moments when you visit them. Initially, this is what attracts kids to enter the joint. The barrage of advertisements, large billboards showing delicious food items, the various events that are organized by the joints, etc., play a vital role in getting the child excited to visit the place.

Many restaurants make it even more enticing for kids by bundling the meal with a toy. These are either based on any cartoon characters that are currently popular with the kids or related to an upcoming movie as a promotional campaign. Combined with a known celebrity to invite children, these strategies work in bringing a large number of children to the restaurants and gorge on fast food items.

What Contents of the Food Makes it Junk

When comparing healthy food and junk food for kids, fast food barely has any nutrition but there are some specific ingredients that end up making it junk.

1. Additional Sugar

Various junk food items contain artificially added colours, flavours, and sugars that make them look attractive and taste delicious. Furthermore, these are usually paired with aerated beverages which also have the same constituents in them. These altogether combine to form a large quantity of added sugar that is not good for the body. They use different names of sugar in beverages such as HCFS, fructose, glucose etc., to get people to buy it.

2. Unhealthy Fats

To make their food items drool-worthy, all the food items that fast food restaurants offer, including burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and so on, usually have multiple layers of cheese in them. Some of the items come with mayonnaise or have it as a separate dip for flavouring. Many of them are fried in oil. All of these aspects add to the fat content in the food item, most of which are not suitable for children for regular consumption or overconsumption.

3. Processed Substances

Junk Food

Fast food barely contains any fibrous elements and none of the other nutrients that are essential to give the body the necessary energy. And due to the lack of fibre element in the food, kids are able to consume them in large amounts. All fast food does is make a child feel full, without offering any nutrition. It’s best that you get your child to eat fibre-and-protein-rich items.

4. Food Toppings

Many toppings that various burgers and salads have or the sauces and dips that accompany them are usually mayonnaise in generous quantities, ketchup, or other flavours. All these ingredients have a lot of sodium, sugar, or oil in them, which isn’t good for health if consumed regularly.

Harmful Effects of Junk Food on Children

Consumption of such junk food with all these constituents can be quite harmful to children and result in adverse effects.

1. Reduction in Comprehension Speed

Where today’s age is all about getting there first and faster, all of this can be achieved only when the brain has had the right nutrition to develop itself. Junk food works only to fill the stomach for a while and barely provides anything to help develop alertness. This results in kids generally lacking concentration when engaged in tasks, failure to remember things for a long time, and generally be weak at learning.

2. Issues With Heart Later in Life

The substantial portions of cheese and other fatty ingredients is inseparable from junk food. These play a key role in increasing the presence of cholesterol in the body, which begins to deposit along the lines of the arteries. Habitual consumption of junk food can cause heart-related problems later in life.

3. Growth Retardation

A child’s body undergoes quite some growth and development while the dental region and the bone structure take a while to reach their full maturity. Eating junk food begins to result in fatty deposits in various regions of the body, especially the hips and the thighs, as well as the additional sugar, gets exposed to the teeth. This can set in bone-related issues early in life and lead to dental decay as well.

4. Digestion Issues

Junk food is junk primarily due to the high presence of processed food items that lack any necessary nutrients, primarily fibre. This makes it difficult to digest as well as restricts proper bowel movement. All of these are responsible for the onset of constipation or any other intestine related disorders too.

5. Risk of Obesity

Obesity in Children

The irresistible flavour and delicious taste of junk food are due to the presence of fatty substances used in it. These fats simply get stored in the body but do not provide quick energy, making children lethargic. Inactivity of the body in the early stages of life sets the very foundation for a child becoming obese and causing body image issues later on.

6. Risk of Diabetes

Sugar levels are the highest in junk foods and the beverages that accompany them. And since sugar begets consumption of more sugar, colas and sodas get consumed in large quantities. This directly impacts the liver, causing insulin secretion issues and could even result in type 2 diabetes very early in life.

7. Kidney Problems

The increase in fats and cholesterol puts pressure on the heart, leading to increased blood pressure, too. This consequently brings about an impact on the function of the kidney, resulting in water retention within the body due to high levels of sodium. Doctors look for such signs to diagnose a kidney that doesn’t function properly.

8. Lower EQ

The presence of sugar and many other flavouring agents begins to affect the hormones that are thriving in a young child. This results in children having extreme mood swings, sometimes resulting in tantrums or even depression.

9. Risk of Fatigue

The feeling of fullness that comes immediately after consuming junk food may satisfy the stomach but provides no energy source for the body in any forms of proteins or carbohydrates. This causes children to be tired and lethargic all the time.

10. Weak Circulation

High levels of salts present in junk foods provide a boost to the blood pressure but not in a good way. Salt contains sodium which is what results in blood pressure problems later in life since it ends up in not developing the circulation system properly.

When to Worry About Your Child’s Junk Food Eating Habits

As a parent, you know that junk food is not good for children or for anyone. But it’s hard to convince kids to not eat it. The presence of burger and pizza outlets in every neighbourhood and the oh-so-convenient option of home delivery makes our resolve weak, and we give in to our kids’ demands once or twice, every week. While occasional consumption of junk food is fine, but if that starts falling into a pattern or reaches to a point where your child refuses to eat anything but junk food, then that’s a serious problem.

How to Encourage Your Child to Eat Healthy Food

Eat Healthy Food

Junk food gets kids excited and interested. That’s the core that needs to be targeted and it can be addressed using healthy home-cooked food as well.

1. Have Happy Meals at Home

Make sure your family enjoys lunch or dinner together in a fashion where food is the focus. If you have any party or event at home, avoid bringing junk food.

2. Adhere to a Plan

Stick the day’s or week’s menu on the refrigerator or someplace. This will let your child know in advance what to expect.

3. Reduce Television Time

Restrict television to only those moments for the cartoons they enjoy. Opt for recorded episodes or internet streaming to avoid ads altogether.

4. Make ‘Healthy’ a Habit

The more healthy the environment is, the lesser the chances of junk food cravings. Let your fridge have the necessary options, too.

5. No Fast Food with Grocery

Keep the usual grocery items as ‘needs’ and fast food as ‘luxuries’. The frequency of consuming junk food will drop down almost immediately.

6. Avoid Lectures

Constantly telling kids to eat healthy foods will make it unattractive in their heads. Present them with healthy and tasty options instead.

7. Cook Together

Let your child enjoy the feeling of cooking a meal. He will be more attached to healthy food emotionally, too.

8. Start Gardening

Grow Your Own Veggies

Begin from the roots and let your child grow his own veggies in a small patch. Make a side dish using it to instil a feeling of pride in your child.

Healthy Alternatives to Junk Food

Here are some healthy alternatives to your child’s favourite junk food that you can make at home.

1. Homemade Jelly

Satiate the sweet taste buds with a healthy and tasty option. Learn to make homemade jelly and let your child indulge.

2. Brown Bread Snacks

Combine these with corn to make a wonderful snack for the evening.

3. Grilled Fish Sticks

Push the burger aside and grill your child’s favourite fish at home.

4. Granola Bar

These are not only filling but quite nutritious and a good source of energy too.

5. Homemade Potato Chips

Rather than buying commercial ones, make potato chips at home in healthy oil to make them tasty and fit for your little one.

Fast food for kids can easily get addictive and then become a tough problem to tackle. Take measures to nip the problem in the bud from early on by inculcating healthy eating habits in your, and let your child be a model for other kids as well.

Also Read: Brain Development Foods for Kids

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