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Monitor the junk in your child’s diet!


I am often asked by children including my daughter why is this food called junk? While I was still debating whether I need to write a blog on junk food and its implications, as a lot has been said and is known about this topic, reading an article in yesterday’s paper made me realize probably over messaging on this topic can be justified! The news item was about an eleven year old girl in Mumbai undergoing bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery, a part of the stomach is removed) to manage her obesity. She weighed a staggering 98 kgs and was actually born a healthy child– a clear case of poor lifestyle and following a bad diet! Yes, we could probably brush this off as a one of case, in a country where numbers have to be big to make any impact.  But the numbers are rising – to quote from the news item – 22 adolescents have been operated at this facility since its inception in June last year and this number is equal to the total number from the last twelve years put together! Also numerous studies show increasing rates of overweight and obesity in children in metros and report numbers as high 20-30 per cent! Many adolescents are reported to have high cholesterol levels, diabetes and hypertension. So we can no longer shirk this away as an aberration!

So who coined this word junk food and what qualifies as junk food?

The word “junk food” / “empty calories” is believed to be coined by   Dr. Michael Jacobson, who co-founded Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), way back in 1972. One of his main goals was to help people take informed decisions on what they eat.  Now the term is used to describe foods which have little nutritional value and are high in baddies – sugar, salt and bad fat.  Foods that usually fall in this category are fried/salted snack foods,  candy, sweet desserts, fried fast food, and sugary aerated drinks or ready to drink juices with hardly any fruit in them. These foods are high in calories but have little of the goodies like protein, vitamins or minerals.  To add a little more on the baddies…

  • Bad Fat duo: Not all fat is bad but the two types of fat we need to watch out for are saturated fat and trans fat. Saturated fat is present in dairy products like full fat milk, butter, cheese, ghee, paneer, red meats. Trans fat is found in products made with partially hydrogenated fat, typically found in food items from local bakeries, street and fast food joints.
  • Sugar and Salt – Sugar adds only extra calories to your child’s diet and no other nutritional value. Salt along with flavors makes the junk food addictive! Savoury snacks are usually high in salt and a 200 ml serving of an aerated drink can easily over shoot your child’s daily requirement of sugar!

With the onslaught of advertisements and increased access to ready to eat snacks and street food, restricting junk food has become a huge task.  Here are some tips which can help…

  • Read nutrition labels of packaged foods you buy and check for amount of baddies
  • Stop stocking junk – chips, namkeen ghee-laden mithai, sweets, candies, and aerated drinks. Buy smaller packs or packs for one time use.
  • Important for older family members to eat healthy and if you live in a joint family, to discuss and agree on eating habits of your child as elders may have a different opinion J
  • Take the help of your pediatrician or a dietician to explain consequences of poor eating to your child if you are worried about her eating habits or weight as the child may be more receptive to an outsider’s advice.
  • Talk to your child’s school if junk food or aerated drinks is served in the school canteen.
  • Talk to your child’s peer group mothers/parents about limiting junk food in birthday parties and sleep overs – if the peer group abides your child will complain less!
  • Do a project with you child on junk foods and collect facts and make a collage or scrap book to increase awareness.
  • Ask older children to cook with you or show them the difference in oil used in frying vs. say baking.
  • Pizzas, burgers, bhel puri if made at home can be easily moved towards the healthier side by making some small changes – whole wheat base, rich tomato sauce, veggies as  toppings in pizzas, baked vegetable patty, whole wheat bun  for burgers and addition of sprouts, groundnuts, some grated carrots in a bhel puri are some tips!
  • Finally ensure daily play or sports for your child.

We need to limit junk food but not restrict it completely as this may back fire and make the child crave for it. It is a journey and not a one-time activity, but benefits are plenty if we start explaining to our children the need to monitor “junk consumption” early on in their lives!


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Meera Srinivasan is on the ParentEdge Editorial Panel. She has a background in Nutrition and Food Technology and comes with more than 15 years of experience in the food industry. As an involved parent of a 12-year old girl, she is passionate about increasing awareness on nutrition and health among children and parents.

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6 thoughts on “Monitor the junk in your child’s diet!

  1. Shuchi

    Hi Meera, guess , not all only kids, but all of us tend to resort to junk food as quick alternative for dealing with our hunger pangs especially at places like offices, in between tuition classes , soon after office hours etc. Also, junk food has become a reason for social get togethers like catching up with friends at a burger / chaat joint – as it is available at much lower cost in comparison to other choices available. Like you rightly suggested – some effort to move to home made “junk” (if i can say so) , can help to reduce the junkness of the junk food – while still giving similar pleasure to taste buds :) .
    The fact on aerated drink is an eye opener and I would definitely curb my aerated drink intake from now on. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Kritika Srinivasan

    Meera – what you say is spot on! There can never be too much said about the evils of junk food. As Shuchi says above, even adults are not careful about what we eat and we give in to temptation – how can we expect our kids to be more careful? And the biggest challenge to weeding out unhealthy eating habits comes from within the family – from grandparents and the older generation who bemoan the fact that our children are ‘suffering’ and having a deprived childhood just because they don’t get to eat chocolate, chips and ice-cream everyday!

  3. meera

    Dear shuchi

    thank you for your comment as always! Yes shuchi even adults are not careful — but I sometimes wonder why healthy food is not served outside or made to seem so boring compared to unhealthy snacks — be it conferences or offices — I recently attended a conference and they served boiled corn chaat, whole wheat sandwich, dhokla and fruit salad — it was such a refreshing change from the bakery biscuits loaded in transfat and oily samosas and pakoras — healthy food can be tasty too! It is about giving food a little more thought, and when the choices are available choosing the right one!

  4. meera

    HI Kritika,

    I cannot agree with you more – I am seen as a “food police” in my home/family! Elders do not understand the need to restrict calories …they need to be told that their grand children as a generation are expending less energy! It might help to have a discussion or use the voice of authority (like a doctor) to convince them!

  5. Dr.Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar

    Thank you for responding to my piece on “Junk-Food: you are what you eat”.
    I enjoyed reading your article on this site as well. There will be a series of three pieces on childhood obesity on Rivo Kids, in case you are interested.-Ujwala


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