Junk” food is the type of food which has no nutritional value and is high in calories and also poses health hazards. This term was first used by Michael Jacobson in 1972 and has been in usage since then. “Junk”, literally means something useless and worth throwing out, for example like garbage. Various studies have shown that this type of food is as useless and harmful as junk.

Over the past few decades, along with development, there has also been increase in the use of junk food, all over the world. In the past, women would cook or supervise preparation of fresh meals for the family. Meal times were sacred. The whole family would sit and eat together after saying grace.

But now the scenario has changed completely. With more women joining the work force, nobody has the time to prepare a fresh whole meal at home. Reliable domestic help is not easily available as before. Long distances, makes it difficult for people in big cities to go home for lunch. Hence majority of the working people take to eating fast food in canteens or restaurants during the day. They land up eating burgers, sandwiches, fried potatoes, e.t.c.

Children and youngsters’s taste have also changed. Burgers and fries, instant ready to eat chips, noodles and puddings, have become their favorite meals. Ready to eat fast foods, processed and canned foods have become the favorite of most people. Most of the times, it has become substitute for a whole meal, particularly mid day meal in case of office workers.

But now scientific studies have demonstrated the health hazards of these fast foods as many are suffering from adverse health due to junk food. Junk or fast food is tasty, and does not need many efforts in preparation. It has a good shelf life due to the preservatives, hence easy to store for many days. There are multiple chemicals involved in processing and preserving it. Fried foods have lot of saturated fats which are harmful.

The good taste of junk food comes from hydrogenated fats. These fats lead to obesity, atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes and heart diseases. Obesity even among children in developed countries is due to consumption of this kind of fast food. White sugar used in many fast foods, is a source of obesity and has no nutritional value whatsoever. Thus it accelerates atherosclerosis (deposition of fat on inner layer of blood vessels) and also diabetes, hence increasing risk for cardiovascular diseases. Apart from this it is damaging to the teeth.

A study done few years ago suggests that using fast food chronically lead to alteration in brain activity similar to abusive substances, thus one gets addicted to them, after some time. A person after eating any of these substances few times craves to eat more. Artificial sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame are implicated to be producing cancer.

Monosodium glutamate(MSG), used in ready to eat instant foods and snacks, is a very controversial chemical and is known to be a cancer producing substance. Butylated hydroxyl toluene(BHT) and BHA(Butylated hydroxyanisole), have also been proved to be carcinogenic in experimental animals and these 2 chemicals are widely used in fast foods.

Junk foods are implicated in causing liver diseases and also cancer of the liver, pancreas, e.t.c. Studies have shown them to be more damaging to the liver than alcohol. The wide range of chemicals used as food preservatives, additives, flavoring and coloring agents are a source of allergy in susceptible people. There is increase in prevalence of bronchial asthma and related allergic disorders like allergic rhinitis, eczema, e.t.c., in developed countries, where there is an increased consumption of this kind of food. Statistics show rising prevalence of bronchial asthma in western countries, reason being consumption of junk food.

One individual can develop bronchial asthma due to fast food consumption. Due to alterations in the genetic material, this asthma is passed on to next generation. Therefore it is high time that people become aware of the health hazards of fast food. It is O.K. to eat it once a while for a change. But by consuming fast food regularly or very frequently, after some time, one spoils his/her health apart from the money spent.

The author is a Specialist internal medicine-
Ruhengeri Hospital

[email protected]

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