Empty Junk Food Calories | Childhood Obesity and Some of its Culprits


Many of you may already know what the experts recently revealed; kids these days are getting an exorbitant amount of their daily calories and nutrition (or lack thereof) from junk food, desserts, and an unlikely culprit: whole milk.

We all know that kids eat more junk food than they should, but we’ve always been told that their ability to metabolize at a faster rate made that completely acceptable. Recent findings claim that junk food makes up approximately 40% of the average kids’ diet. Perhaps this statistic will shine some much needed light on the matter at hand.

According to researchers behind the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, children between the ages of 2-18 are getting about 40% of their calories from just six different foods:

  • Soda
  • Sugary fruit drinks
  • Grain desserts: cookies, cakes, donuts
  • Dairy desserts: ice cream, milkshakes
  • Pizza
  • Whole Milk

Two of these items are in the dessert category, and three others are junk food snacks. It’s a wonder that kids in the age bracket of 2-18 even have access to that much junk food. The most surprising item to make the “naughty” list is whole milk. Many parents feel that this provides a hearty serving of Vitamin D, Calcium, and other necessary nutrients. What they do not realize is that when moderation is not enforced, the high fat calories are no longer offset by the benefits of these nutrients. While a small serving of whole milk can be beneficial, most situations call for its skinnier sibling, skim milk.

Specialists across the country have weighed in on the causes of these startling statistics over the last few weeks. The majority of nutritionists and dieticians have come to a few similar conclusions.

Everyone is a role model, and we aren’t doing a very good job.


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Parents, teachers, celebrities and food companies are all responsible for the dire state of our youth. While legislation now regulates many schools’ vending machine products, parents, teachers, and coaches can be doing much more. Creating a meal out of microwavable pizza doesn’t set a good example for kids. Children look to adults for guidance, and they tend to form habits that only get worse during the freedom of their impressionable teen years.

Kids just need to get up and move!


If 40% of the older generation’s caloric intake as kids was made up of these empty calories, our bodies would not have noticed nearly as much as today’s kids’ bodies do. Those were the days of walking to school and playing outside until dark. Nowadays, many children do not even get the minimum recommended activity per day – and that’s only an hour. While we cannot explicitly blame video games and television for obesity, they are definitely culprits for their lack of activity.

It’s not just calories that matter – it’s the type of calories.


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For decades, people of all ages, shapes, and sizes have fallen victim to fad diets, misconstrued healthy options, and excessive portion sizes. One issue is that people think that the only thing to avoid is excess calories, and in some cases, that might help you lose weight. Although eating only pizza, soda, and ice cream in a day may fall within your daily caloric need, the nutritional value is completely absent. People forget that eating right is not supposed to be about being skinny or looking good; it should be about being healthy and leading a healthy lifestyle.

Many sources cite teenagers’ addiction to cheap, flavorful, and satisfying junk food as a main culprit. Others claim that mere negligence by parents and school officials is to blame. Either way, these startling statistics paint a very grim future for our youngest generation. Find ways to feed your children nutritious calories, lead by example, and get up and move!

For more information on SPARK’s Nutrition Education program (and our exclusive nutrition partner Healthy Kids Challenge), please Click Here.

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