unicef sounds the alarm about the spread of processed foods
Generally, when international agencies worry about malnourished children, they’re talking about kids not getting enough to eat and growing up to be frail and stunted adults. But last year’s UNICEF report on the subject featured a new, growing concern about the opposite. Across the world, child obesity is skyrocketing thanks to access to fast food and junk food, and while kids are being fed more than enough calories, the quality of what they ingest puts them at serious risk of health problems as they grow up. In other words, too many kids all over the world are eating highly processed, fatty, salty, sugary crap instead of healthy, balanced diets that would meet their nutritional needs.
We’ve already talked about the main problems with highly processed foods, that they make you eat more than you should and adversely affect your mood, and how this results in more mood disorders, cancers, and other chronic health problems. So, it’s no wonder that UNICEF saw so many children with expanding waistlines and the attendant problems and elevated risks, and decided we needed a warning about what we’re doing to them. Unsurprisingly, their proposed solution is to emphasize more native, plant rich diets with a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and good fats their bodies need instead of continuing to encourage the indiscriminate spread of fast food chains and highly processed prepared meals in supermarkets.
It’s an unfortunate fact that the standard American diet widespread through globalization is full of sugars and additives that consumers don’t even like or want but still consume if they don’t have enough equally convenient choices and manufacturers simply ignore the feedback. To hundreds of millions around the world, however, these sweet, salty, over-processed meals are a luxury and when they compete with an uncertain supply of native food, they tend to win on reliability and convenience. Yes, it’s true that a degree of self-control has to be involved in the consumption of processed food, but in too many parts of the world, there are extenuating circumstances such as a lack of alternatives and an absence of nutritional education.
Certainly there’s nothing wrong with tucking into a loaded burger once in a while, but it has to be done with the knowledge that you have to stay active and eat a lot more salads, fruits, nuts, and homecooked meals than heat-and-eat kits from the frozen section to avoid paying for it by shaving years off your lifespan and its quality. If this is a problem UNICEF intends to tackle, it’ll need to do some creative promotion of fast, easy cooking in a busy, post-industrial world, and educate millions of families about the basics of nutrition with meal plans and recipes handy to provide inspiration, as well as improve the reliability of local crop harvests where necessary. And, of course, food manufacturers could help too by laying off the additives, fats, and salts…