Junk food not the biggest culprit for obesity: Study

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

Is obesity caused by junk food? One study says "no".
Is obesity caused by junk food? One study says "no".

Related tags Junk food Nutrition

While many people have snacks, sugar and sodas pinned as the bad guys in the war against obesity, one recent study found little to no correlation between consumption of junk food and obesity.

Cornell Food and Brand Lab released "Obesity: Is junk food really to blame? Candy, soda, and fast food are not driving the rising obesity trend in the US,” a study by professors David Just and Brian Wansink which looked at data from the US Centers for Disease Control. The research found that for everyone who was not extremely overweight or underweight, candy, snacks, fast food and soda had no correlation to body mass index (BMI).

Taking on obesity is more than junk food

Just told BakeryandSnacks that the genesis of this study came from the recent soda, sugar and junk food-based taxes that are currently in popping up in pockets of the US. He said there have been promises that this will make a “big dent” in obesity, but he and Wansink wondered if this was promising a bit too much.

“We looked through [the CDC study] to see if people who were heavier consumed more of these snacks,”​ he said. “We expected maybe it was being exaggerated, but maybe there is some kind of relationship. We were pretty shocked to see it was basically flat for most of that distribution.”

While Just recognizes that junk food consumption isn’t completely detached from obesity, he said the study found that it was not the difference between those who are overweight and those who have a healthy weight.

The rest of the story still has to be told as to what the real differential between weights is, he said, but Just believes it comes down to eating too much protein, grains and snacks and not enough fruits, vegetables or physical activity.

“There are always trends that reconcile with those results,” ​he said. “But junk food doesn’t seem to the boogie man it was made out to be.”

What’s the solution?

Nutritional education has had mixed results, Just said. So does the issue of controlling portion size and what goes into foods fall into the hands of manufacturers? Just believes it should, at least partially, as portion size plays a big role in what people eat.

“I do think it is the food manufacturers who really have to lead that charge in making their products, making the packaging and sizing of things more sensible,”​ he said. “We’ve seen some moves that way; I think there are some companies clumsily trying to find ways to do that … but we’re sort of early in that phase of this.”

Junk food taxes will likely have little to no success, he said, as Just believes this is more of a holistic diet problem than an issue with a narrow grouping of junk foods. 

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