Harmful effects of junk food on body shape
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Misbah Wasi

Functional Nutrition Specialist, Scientific & Regulatory Advisor for Health Supplements

Misbah Wasi is a seasoned professional in the field of Nutrition Science and Food Regulation for over 15 years. Currently, she is lendin her expertise in the area of Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals and is an active member of the Standards Review Group (SRG) - Nutraceuticals FSSAI Ms. Wasi is a post-graduate in Food and Nutrition. Certified Lead Food Safety Management Systems Auditor (FSMS, FSSC 22000) and a certified FoSTaC traine for Health Supplements and Nutraceuticals. She is also a Subject Matter Expert for ‘Food Regulations in India’ for IFLR (International Food Laws and Regulations) course at Michigan State University.

Harmful effects of junk food on body shape

Indulging in junk food may seem harmless at the moment, but its effects on your body shape can be significant over time. Junk foods are defined as meals that can be easily consumed with little to no consideration for their nutritional potential. Michael Jacobson coined the phrase "junk food" in 1972 to describe foods that were inadequate in nutritional value.

Having high amounts of fat, sugar, and salt content, these foods contribute significantly to excessive calorie intake and an imbalanced nutrient profile. The absence of crucial vitamins and minerals in junk food hampers metabolic activities. It has been observed that consumption of such meals causes continual accumulation of body fat, particularly visceral fat around the abdomen, which results in a disproportionate shape of the body over time. These types of foods are popular all around the world due to their enhanced taste, extended shelf life, and ease of transportation. Also, strategic advertisement of such foods successfully captures the attention of people which is enough to indulge an individual towards unhealthy eating habits. According to research, the majority of teenage obesity, high cholesterol, and atherosclerosis are caused by poor eating choices regularly. Sugar- and salt-rich foods are known to raise serotonin levels in the body, which causes mood swings and anxiety-like sensations every time the body's sugar levels drop. They also suffer from severe exhaustion, trouble focusing, and a decline in their cognitive senses. Unlike the elderly, who suffer from specific ailments related to the digestion and processing of junk food and its contents, teenagers may suffer from mental illnesses and cognitive deficits if exposed to excessive amounts of junk food. Therefore, these foods must be avoided or consumed within limits as it has a detrimental impact on health, leading to higher cholesterol, poor concentration, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and various kinds of skin cancer.


Understanding Junk Food

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs), are a category of food items which is characterized by:

• Excessive industrial processing: including refining, hydrogenation, and chemical additions.
• Low nutrient content: insufficient vitamins, minerals, fiber, and complex carbohydrates impair hormone function, specifically leptin and ghrelin, which regulate satiety and hunger cues.
• Higher concentration of:
• Unhealthy fats:  Saturated and Trans fats, prevalent in processed meats, fried foods, and baked goods, increase LDL i.e. low-density lipoprotein (“bad”) cholesterol levels while reducing HDL i.e. high-density lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol. This promotes atherogenesis, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disorders. Studies have found a link between saturated fat consumption and visceral adipose tissue buildup, which is a primary contributor to the development of a central adiposity body shape (excess waist circumference).
• Refined carbohydrates: Sugary drinks, white bread, and pastries include refined grains that induce rapid blood sugar spikes. This causes increased insulin secretion, which may result in insulin resistance over time. Chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) promotes fat storage and weight gain.
• Added sugars and artificial sweeteners: Provide empty calories rather than increasing fullness. Excessive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars leads to increased visceral fat formation.
• Sodium:  High salt levels present in processed foods can cause sodium overload, resulting in fluid retention and weight gain. Chronically excessive sodium intake is linked to an increased risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), which can progress to other cardiovascular disorders.

    UPFs are formulated for palatability, convenience, and extended shelf life through various processing techniques. These techniques often:

    • Reduce the fiber content: reduces satiety and harms gut health
    • Increase the glycaemic index: increases blood sugar levels, leading to insulin surges and potential long-term health implications.
    • Use artificial additives: colours, flavours, and preservatives can cause health issues such as allergies, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome.


      Impact of junk food on body shape

      Dietary patterns significantly influence body composition and shape. The regular consumption of junk food that is rich in energy, and poor in nutrients poses a substantial threat to maintaining a healthy body shape.

      1. High-Calorie Content and Weight Gain

      • Calorie Surplus: Junk food frequently has high levels of added sugars, processed carbs, and bad fats, which contribute to an excess of calories consumed.
      • Positive Energy Balance: A positive energy balance occurs when the intake of calories is continuously less than the expenditure of calories. This phenomenon promotes weight gain, primarily due to excessive fat accumulation.


        1. Impact on Insulin Regulation:

        • Blood Sugar Spikes: The quickly absorbed carbohydrates in junk food lead to sharp increases in blood sugar.
        • Insulin Response: In response, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin, which makes it easier for cells to absorb glucose and store it as energy.
        • Insulin Resistance: Cells that are resistant to insulin become less receptive to the hormone insulin when there is a prolonged overindulgence in junk food.
        • Fat Storage: Visceral fat accumulation around the abdomen is especially encouraged by this decreased insulin sensitivity.


          1. Depletion of Muscle Mass:
          • Deficiency in Essential Nutrients: Junk food is generally deficient in essential nutrients like protein and fiber, crucial for muscle building and repair.
          • Muscle Loss: A diet deficient in these vital nutrients hinders muscle growth and contributes to a reduction in muscle mass. This decrease in muscle tissue negatively impacts metabolic rate and body shape.


            1. Long term effects

            Consuming junk food has been demonstrated to have long-term impacts on the shape of the body. Research indicates that a junk food diet consumed by the mother throughout her pregnancy and lactation may raise the risk of obesity in the kids by increasing adipocyte hypertrophy and adiposity. There is an enhanced liking for fat in the offspring of mothers who were exposed to high-fat, high-sugar diets before delivery. This suggests that the central reward system is permanently altered, increasing the desire to overindulge in pleasing foods. In addition, consuming junk food as a youngster or teenager might create dietary patterns that last a lifetime and raise the chance of obesity in the future.


            Junk food consumption, in general, have a major and long-lasting impact on how the body is shaped, raising the risk of obesity and associated health problems.

            Some of the most common ailments caused by junk foods are:

            • Type 2 diabetes
            • Obesity
            • Insulin resistance
            • Heart conditions due to high levels of cholesterol
            • High reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
            • Heartburn
            • Acute gastroenteritis


            Tips to reduce junk food consumption

            1. Increasing awareness about the negative health effects of junk food may help in reducing its consumption.
            2. Promoting healthy eating habits and providing nutrition education can persuade people to make healthier food choices.
            3. Encouraging individuals to cook and prepare creative meals at home using fresh ingredients, colorful fruits, and vegetables can reduce reliance on processed and junk food.
            4. Setting limits and avoiding frequent consumption of carbonated drinks, and fast-food items.
            5. Reading nutritional labels (given on the back of packaged items) to know the ingredients and nutritive value and selecting the healthiest one after comparing similar items.




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