Should we allow junk food makers to advertise to kids?

Most medical professionals and public health experts indict manipulative junk food advertising for the mushrooming obesity in children.

“We have a food supply of willfully addictive junk food designed to maximize eating, yet make futile recommendations for ‘portion control’ without addressing the root cause,” said Dr. David Katz after reviewing the Pennington pediatric obesity data.

Katz, a specialist in preventive and lifestyle medicine and president of the True Health Initiative in Tulsa, Oklahoma, added: “Stated bluntly, this a national disgrace, because this problem is one with dire consequences that we could fix any time we genuinely committed to doing so. …

“We would be well advised to treat obesity in our children as we treat drowning — for, after all, they are drowning in the hyper-palatable calories of ultra-processed foods, and in exertion-sparing technologies that proliferate endlessly.”

The Pennington report’s lead author, Staiano, said: “Healthcare providers should provide counseling and evidence-based programs to support families to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Insurance companies should follow the Affordable Care Act to pay for these weight-management services as a way to prevent debilitating and costly disease. …

“Parents and kids should talk to their doctors and school nurses to develop a healthy eating and activity plan that will work for their family.”

Bans on junk food advertising are effective, according to a recent BMJ report, which stated: “Restrictions on the adverting of high fat, salt, and sugar products across the Transport for London network [a commuter train line] in 2019 resulted in 94 867 fewer cases of obesity than expected (a 4.8% decrease), researchers have estimated.”

According to a study in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, “There were 2,857 fewer cases of diabetes and 1,915 fewer cases of cardiovascular disease within three years of the advertising restriction than would be expected.”

One of the key junk food ingredients linked to obesity is high fructose corn syrup, a staple in junk food.

The authors of research published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior suggested high fructose intake activates “an evolutionary-based survival pathway” of fat storage and decreased energy expenditure that developed in animals to fight starvation or prepare for hibernation or long-distance migration.

High fructose corn syrup and its metabolite, uric acid, likely induces a “foraging response that stimulates craving, impulsivity, risk-taking and aggression” the authors wrote.

They added: “Fructose is unique among all nutrients in its ability to trigger a starvation-like signal even in the absence of true starvation. … Specifically, fructose mimics a starvation-like state by dropping the energy (also known as adenosine triphosphate or ATP) in the cell during its metabolism.

“While the metabolism of all nutrients uses energy, when fructose is metabolized, the energy levels fall more because of an absence of a feedback mechanism to stop the metabolism if energy levels fall too low …

Almost 1 in Every 3 College-Age Americans Are Now Obese

“In addition, fructose stimulates hunger (via the induction of leptin resistance) and thirst (by causing a shift of water into the cell and raising serum osmolality). … The net result is that fructose stimulates food and water intake, increases energy (fat and glycogen) stores, induces insulin resistance to preferentially provide glucose to the brain, increases blood pressure and reduces sodium losses, and decreases oxygen needs by reducing mitochondrial activity and relying more on glycolysis. Thus, fructose is the ideal energy storing fuel.”

Ultra-processed food, synonymous with junk food, is especially risky for people who are genetically predisposed to storing it as fat, according to Dr. Caroline Apovian, co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

According to a BBC report, in the U.K. and in the U.S., more than half the energy from food in the average diet comes from ultra-processed products.

The BBC’s Dr. Chris van Tulleken, host of “What Are We Feeding our Kids?,” was curious about how ultra-processed foods affect the body, so he experimented by changing his own diet.

Tulleken underwent several measurements of health biomarkers, which demonstrated significant changes from only four weeks of eating ultra-processed foods.

Brain scans showed the diet had created new links in his brain from areas responsible for reward to areas that drive automatic and repetitive behavior. This is a similar response to taking classically addictive substances, such as tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

Not just food — chemicals linked to obesity

Junk food advertising isn’t the only culprit in the U.S. obesity crisis — chemicals play a role, too.

For example, endocrine disrupters — chemicals lurking in the environment that can act like hormones and disrupt endocrine signaling pathways — are known to contribute to obesity.

Endocrine disruptors, found in most plastic products (even those marked “BPA-free”), include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), phthalates and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) –– compounds frequently used in industry and found in pesticides and in consumer, household and building products.

In his article, “Endocrine Disruptors and the Obesity Epidemic,” Jerrold J. Heindel wrote, “The level of chemicals in the environment is purported to coincide with the incidence of obesity.”

Scientists are increasingly looking at endocrine disrupter exposure “during critical stages of development” in children as a factor in later obesity, according to research in the International Journal of Andrology.

Pregnant women who showed high levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), another endocrine disruptor, were 3 times as likely to have daughters who grew up to be overweight, The New York Times reported.

Perro singled out glyphosate, the main chemical in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, which is “ubiquitous in every American child’s diet” and is a “known endocrine disruptor and obesogen.”

“Without a conversation about the environmental toxicants in our children’s diets, water and air affecting their metabolic health, we have missed the mark,” Perro said.

“It goes without saying that focusing on a healthy diet is paramount in educating families, but must include a conversation about eating organics and avoiding GMOs and pesticides.”