There Might Still Be Room in Your Diet for Junk Food, Study Suggests

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Shainhouse_151115For years, researchers, policy makers, and health professionals have been advising overweight and obese individuals to lay off junk food as a solution to losing weight.  People have often thought that junk food, such as fast food, sweets, and sodas are major contributing factors to the obesity epidemic, which they very well may be. More so, studies have linked them to the development of many chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Although cutting out junk food may be a solution for the mordbidly obese, it might not be effective advice for 95% of the general population.

Researchers from Cornell University evaluated the frequency of consuming unhealthy foods and its impact on the majority of the American population. Their study involved over 5,000 participants surveyed from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It was conducted through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2007 and 2008.

The sample evaluated at least two dietary recalls and participants’ responses to a general health survey.  Trained professionals measured each participant’s height and weight in order to calculate their body mass index (BMI) and categorize them into appropriate weight categories. Individuals with a BMI of less than 18.5 were classified as underweight, while a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9 was classified as normal weight, and a BMI between 25 and 29.9 was classified as overweight. A BMI of 30 to 39.9 was classified as being obese, and anything higher was considered morbidly obese.

In order to gain a better understanding of the general population’s eating habits, researchers excluded individuals who were in the underweight or morbidly obese categories from the analyses.

Findings revealed that consuming indulgent type foods such as French fries, soft drinks, baked goods, and other desserts were not associated with weight status. Further, there were no differences in consumption of either salty or sweet snacks between obese, overweight, or normal weight individuals. However, while frequency may not have differed between the different weight categories, the actual portion sizes may have. Researchers did not account for the amounts but rather the number of times an individual consumed indulgent foods in a day.

Researchers found that snacking on any types of food was not associated with weight status. However, individuals with higher BMI’s had a lower intake of fruits and vegetables.

“It really was a surprise, I thought there would be a relationship between how heavy a person was and how often they ate junk food,” reported co-author of this study, David Just. “The consumer takeaway is that people can probably find a way to eat healthy and include junk food sometimes. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing.”

Individuals, regardless of their weight status are encouraged to consume a variety of foods in moderation from all different food groups.  Furthermore, while it might be sound advice to cut back on junk food and unhealthy snacks, losing weight is a multifaceted issue.  Reducing calories and frequency of snacking on unhealthy foods is a start. However, people need to consider the many necessary changes to eating habits, physical activity habits, sleeping habits, and other lifestyle factors in order to a achieve a successful and healthy weight loss regimen.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Just, D., et. al., “Fast Food, Soft Drink, and Candy Intake is Unrelated to Body Mass Index for 95% of American Adults,” Social Science Research Network web site, October 1, 2015;

Storrs, C., “Dieters don’t have to banish junk food and soda, study suggests,” CNN web site, last updated November 12, 2015;, last accessed November 13, 2015. 

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Leah Shainhouse, R.D.

About the Author, Browse Leah's Articles

Leah Shainhouse is a Registered Dietitian with the College of Dietitians of Ontario and a member of the Dietitians of Canada. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science, Honors, in Nutritional Sciences from the University of British Columbia and went on to complete her dietetic training and Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition at McGill University. Leah has a strong desire to help shape the lives of individuals through a healthy lifestyle. She enjoys working with people to help... Read Full Bio »