What Are The Effects Of Eating Junk Food In Kids?

Your child’s requests for pizza or burgers are getting beyond control, and you are worried about the negative effects of junk food on children’s health. Regular and long-term consumption of junk foods such as fries, burgers, and other unhealthy meals can contribute to various health problems, including obesity or cardiovascular diseases. So, continue reading to learn more about junk meals, how they affect your child’s health, and some healthy alternatives to try.

In This Article

A Major Concern Worldwide

These days, every locality and every mall has a junk food outlet, dishing out fries, pizzas, burgers, rolls, and what have you! It is a great concern worldwide that children in their growing years form the larger part of such outlet’s consumers.

The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey studied Fast Food Intake Among Children and Adolescents in the United States from 2015 to 2018. The graph presented below categorizes the daily calorie intake from junk food based on total and gender-specific consumption.

The data reveals that among adolescents aged 12-19, girls had a higher average daily calorie intake than boys, whereas no significant difference was found in children aged 2-11. Additionally, the percentage of calories from fast food consumption increased with age, with an average rate of 11.4% in children aged 2-11 and 16.7% in adolescents aged 12-19.

Calorie intake from fast food consumption among US children and teens

Source: Fast Food Intake Among Children and Adolescents in the United States

It is truly a challenge to keep your child away from less nutritious yet delicious junk food. The growing awareness of the ill effects of junk food is slower than the pace of the effect it has on your child.

Understanding all about junk food and how to replace it with healthy eating is something we are sure will help you be a better ‘food-police’ the next time.

protip_icon Did you know?
“Healthy foods are advertised less than 3% of the time in comparison to their counterparts (6), ” directly affecting children’s food choices and preferences.

Let’s move it

Talking of junk food and fads, the former US First Lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ campaign has taken up a good cause to battle the bulge in kids. The U.S. government has set up strict rules and guidelines in schools to provide healthy food instead of junk food for kids.

What Substances Make Food ‘Junk’?

Junk food has negligible nutritional value and can lead to nutritional deficiencies, doing more harm than good. Take a closer look at the contents that are usually present in junk foods.

1. Toppings

The toppings are sauces, cream, cheese, or blobs of mayonnaise. put on other foods to enhance the taste. These sauces have high levels of salt, fat, and sugar and are unhealthy (1).

2. Processed contents

Junk food is more processed and has fewer natural nutrients. Heavily processed foods are chemically altered with artificial flavors, additives, or other unhealthy ingredients (2). It has very little fiber which gives energy.

protip_icon Research finds
A study highlighted that children between three and five years of age who consumed more ultra-processed foods had poorer locomotor skillsiXType of skills that enables children to move their body from one place and position to another, such as walking or climbing. than those who consumed less of these foods (7).

3. Fat

Hot dogs, burgers, and sandwiches have slabs of cheese, sauces, and spreads, such as mayonnaise, which contain excessive unhealthy fat and calories without much nutritional value. Most oils used in preparing junk food, including fries, are also very processed. Children require healthy fats from unprocessed sources, such as salmon, extra virgin olive oil, or avocadoes as healthy fats are essential for optimal physical growth and brain development (3).

4. Added sugar

Junk foods and beverages are alarmingly high in added sugar

Image: IStock

The quantities of added sugar in junk food and beverages are alarmingly higher than any other sweet food that we usually consume. The added food colors in the sodas and colas (4).

protip_icon Did you know?
Beverages are a leading category source of added sugar in children’s diets, wherein they make up about 47% of all added sugar (8).

Top Ten Effects Of Junk Food On Children

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2017-2020, the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents in the US was 19.7%. Childhood obesity and diets high in ultra-processed foods can affect long-term health consequences, including malnutrition.

Here are the top ten reasons how junk food affects children and why you should ensure your child stays away from junk food (5):

1. Increased blood pressure

The sodium in the salt may pose risks of high blood pressure which may lead to a weak circulatory system.

2. Fatigue

Your child probably gets a feeling of fullness in the tummy while consuming junk food since it lacks carbohydrates and proteins which are imperative to feel energetic. A tired and lethargic child may make it difficult for your child to engage in physical activity or perform daily tasks.

3. Less emotional quotient

Hormonal imbalance is a major change experienced in the growing years of 6-12. Junk would cause problems with hormonal balance leading to mood swings and behavioral changes. Depression is one of the common side effects of junk food in children.

4. Kidney disease

High sodium in food leads to water retention (edema) in the body and causes problems with kidney function. Edema is one of the signs of a dysfunctional kidney.

5. Diabetes

Colas, sodas, and beverages contain high amounts of sugar. The high sugar content may increase the risk of malfunction of insulin secretion and may result in type 2 diabetes during childhood or at a later age.

6. Obesity

Obesity, effects of junk food on children's health

Image: Shutterstock

The fat used for flavoring and seasoning in junk food accumulates in the body and may lead to low energy levels. Low energy levels lead to a lack of physical activity, resulting in obesity and an increased risk of heart ailments. Children may also face issues with self-esteem due to increased weight gain.

7. Digestive disorder

The base of the junk food is more processed and has less natural nutrients. It has very little fiber which can increase the probability of constipation and digestive issues. This, in turn, may increase the risk of intestinal disorder or colon cancer at a later age of life.

8. Bone and teeth deformities

Your growing child needs all the core nutrients required for good bone and dental growth. Junk food leads to excess weight on thighs and hips which may make one more prone to an early onset of osteoporosisiXA condition that causes the weakening of bones due to decreased bone mass and mineral density. . High sugar content in junk food may lead to tooth decay in the permanent teeth.

9. Heart disease

Slabs of cheese are the main ingredient in junk food. High-fat increases cholesterol levels and the cholesterol may deposit itself in the blood vessels of the heart. High cholesterol is the root cause of heart diseases and makes one more prone to experience a stroke at a later age.

10. Slow brain functions

Pre-teens have to be in the race to prove better. Junk food lacks the essential nutrients that provide alertness to the brain and improves cognitive functions. Teens may face issues with concentration, lower retention capabilities, and reduced learning abilities.

We Chip-In To Help You, Moms

Negligence in monitoring your kid’s food habits affects their growth in puberty. Lifestyle triggered ailments like breast cancer, osteoporosis, hypertension find their roots at a very early age via unhealthy eating.

It is our endeavor to help you be a better mom to your children. And to make that extra effort to cook up some nutritious food for your family, here are some yummy ideas:

We have food suggestions you can use to bring in newness to your children’s menu.

1. Grilled fish sticks

Grilled fish sticks

Image: Shutterstock

This snack provides fiber and goodness of omega 3 fatty acids together. Moreover, oats are used here which is better accepted by kids.

  • Take a fish filet.
  • Lightly season it with lemon and salt.
  • Coat with wheat powder and roll it in oats.
  • Grill or roast it.

2. Brown bread corn cups

Brown bread corn cups

Image: IStock

Packed with proteins, vitamins, and minerals, this snack is filling and an option for a mid-evening snack.

  • Take a couple of brown bread slices.
  • Cut edges and put in the moulds.
  • Prepare a filling of boiled sweet corn or paneer, diced red and green pepper, grated carrot, and pomegranate seeds.
  • You may add cheese and potatoes.
  • Mix with seasoning of pepper and salt
  • Place it in the bread cups.
  • Top it with grated cheese and bake it.

Variation: Lightly roast the bread and add the filling as a topping.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why do kids prefer junk food?

Children may love junk foods such as pizza, burgers, and fries for their taste and the characteristics of foods, such as smell and texture (9).

2. How can junk food be avoided?

One effective way to stop junk food-eating habits in children is by modeling healthy eating. In addition, experts suggest parents educate children about the adverse health consequences of unhealthy foods and also be watchful of their children’s eating habits at school (6).

3. How does junk food affect school performance?

Studies highlight that frequent junk food consumption could be associated with poor academic performance and an increased risk of metabolic conditions such as obesity (10).

Fast foods are usually high in salt, sugar, and trans trans fatsiXAn unhealthy unsaturated fat that may cause an increase in bad cholesterol, resulting in problems such as heart disorder and diabetes. . Consuming these ingredients in high amounts can expose a child to several health risks, including obesity, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome. Generally, relishing a burger or a slice of pizza once in a while won’t affect your child’s health. However, you must ensure that this occasional treat doesn’t become a regular habit. To minimize the effects of junk food on children’s health, feed them well-balanced meals containing healthy foods from various food groups.

Infographic: Effects Of Junk Food On Children

A diet high in junk food can negatively impact a child’s health in the short and long term. Some immediate effects may include being tired or sluggish, while long-term consequences may include serious health issues. For more information on the potential negative effects of consuming a junk food diet, refer to the infographic provided.

how does junk food affect children (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

Download Infographic in PDF version Download Infographic
Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Junk foods have a high amount of salt, fat, sugar, artificial flavors, and unhealthy ingredients but very less natural nutrients.
  • Diabetes, fatigue, obesity, heart, digestive, and kidney disorders are some diseases caused by junk foods.
  • Junk food can lead to an increase in blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, and behavioral changes.
  • Junk food may also lead to dental problems and an early onset of osteoporosis.
  • Healthful and tasty recipes such as brown bread corn cups and grilled fish sticks may be served to children instead of junk.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Choose This, Not That: Healthy & Unhealthy Choices at Fast Food Restaurants
  2. The Many Health Risks of Processed Foods Laborer’s Health and Safety fund Of North America
  3. Fat in children’s food: What you need to know The Hospital For Sick Children
  4. Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  5. Junk food and your health Australian Government Department of Health
  6. How Children Develop Unhealthy Food Preferences.
  7. Are highly processed foods bad for children?.
  8. How much sugar is too much?
  9. Sharifah Intan Zainun Sharif Ishak et al., (2013); Assessing the children’s views on foods and consumption of selected food groups: outcome from focus group approach.
  10. So Young Kim et al., (2016); Dietary Habits Are Associated With School Performance in Adolescents.
Was this article helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.