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Saturday Jul 2, 2022

How junk food culture is affecting Nepali teens

The consumption of processed and junk food in an excess is damaging adolescents' health.

2022 Apr 18, 6:12, Kathmandu
Photo : Junk and healthy choice / flickr

Families have shifted from agriculture and cultivation of nutritious foods to quick ready-to-eat meals, resulting in poor eating habits especially in young people.

A study ‘Junk Food Consumption among Secondary Level Students’ conducted in the year 2017 in Nepal, reveals an alarming situation.

All students consumed junk food on a regular basis. Among them, 90.1% of students preferred junk food for its taste. Only 54.2% of students were aware of the harmful effects of eating junk food on a regular basis.

“The human brain releases a chemical called dopamine, when sugary and junk food items are consumed. The release of dopamine provides pleasure to a person, which makes the experience associated with its release addictive. Adolescents who have a habit of consuming junk food regularly, experience mood changes and irritation if they are not served with their pleasure foods.” says adolescent health expert Doctor Rajendra Bhadra.

In the same study, advertisements were found to be a major factor that attracted teens towards junk food. An interesting research, performed by the Resource Centre for Primary Health Care in 2013: ‘Media Coverage of Junk Food and its Content Analysis on Selected Nepali and Indian Television Channels’ showed that homemakers, children and youth were the target population for junk food advertisements. The advertisements promoted the consumption of junk and processed food as ‘healthy’ and a good alternative to home - cooked food.

In Nepal, the most commonly advertised foods were found to be instant noodles, chips, biscuits, chocolates, soft drinks, sugary drinks, salty and spicy snacks.

It was found that one fourth of the total advertisements were of junk food. Surprisingly, the advertisements of junk food were targeted towards children in an exponential manner. The highest proportion of junk food advertisements (47.5%) was found to be showcased in cartoon channels.

‘Junk food’ refers to foods that contain high levels of calories usually from sugar or fats. They contain no or very less amounts of fiber, protein, vitamins or minerals. It is available everywhere from next door grocery shops to school canteens in Nepal.

Recently in 2022, the researchers at the University of Sao Paulo Brazil, published a journal, where they have linked the consumption of processed and junk food to high risk of obesity among adolescents. Furthermore, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol was also found among adolescents who consumed junk and processed food on a regular basis.

Photo: obesity risks/picpedia
Photo: obesity risks/picpedia

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines an adolescent as any person between the ages 10 and 19. “The human brain is still developing until a person reaches the late adolescent stage. Hence, proper nutrition is vital to brain growth.” says Dr. Bhadra.

Junk foods are laced with colours which if consumed can disrupt the smooth functioning of the digestive system. Such food colouring causes hyperactivity and less concentration power among children of growing age. “The harmful chemicals used in junk food as colouring agents, have more than thirty to forty names, these names are used interchangeably in food products, so that if one knows how to detect one from the ingredients list given in the food packet, he or she will still be consuming other food items with the same harmful chemicals in it unknowingly.” says Dr. Bhadra.

The ‘ Journal of Nutrition’ published in 2019, linked stunting among Nepali children to junk food. Stunting occurs when a child has a low height according to his/her age, resulting from lack of proper nutrition.

Poor eating habits of youngsters result in anaemia, a commonly observed health problem particularly in Nepal. The Government of Nepal, Ministry of Health and Population has listed anaemia as the most serious health problem prevalent in Nepal.

Anaemia refers to a health condition, in which a person has fewer red blood cells than the normal level in his or her blood. The deficiency of iron rich foods in a person’s regular diet is the major cause of anaemia. Iron-rich foods include lean beef, poultry, seafood, iron-fortified cereals and grains, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, nuts and beans

“Our lifestyle has drastically changed in a few decades, whereas our evolutionary biology takes thousands of years to evolve. In the past, as food was not readily available at all times, humans ate oily and sugary food when they had the opportunity to, with the motive of storing energy in their body for future, for the times of food scarcity. Now the same foods high in sugar and fats are linked with diseases related to the heart.” concludes Dr. Bhadra.


adolescents health junk food processed food eating healthy diseases Obesity
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