A healthy diet is essential for maintaining overall health. Eating high levels of processed foods is well-known for its negative health effects, but a new study has suggested that it could have serious long-term impacts on physical fitness levels.
The study, which was conducted by the American Society for Nutrition, looked at the risks for children eating a diet that was high in ultra-processed foods.
The researchers collected and analyzed the data of over 1,500 kids in the US between the ages of 3 and 15 who were enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey/National Youth Fitness Survey.
This data included information about the child’s typical diet and exercise habits. Additionally, the researchers measured physical fitness using a variety of tests, as well as measuring locomotor development and cardiovascular fitness.
They found that kids that ate a lot of these types of foods from a young age were more likely to have low levels of physical fitness and worse cardiovascular health. Worryingly, these effects were long-term, with problems often persisting into their teens and beyond.
The long-term effects of ultra-processed foods
Regardless of age, the children who ate more ultra-processed food were more likely to have poor physical fitness. This is concerning, as regular exercise is known to have many benefits.
Kids who ate the most ultra-processed foods reported getting a large number of calories from things like hotdogs, pizza, candy, packaged snacks, and chicken nuggets, and the risks of this are as high as they are for adults.
Researcher Jacqueline Vernarelli, Ph.D. noted: “Healthy dietary and exercise behaviors are established at a very young age. Our findings point to the need to educate families about cost-effective ways to reduce ultra-processed food intake to help decrease the risk for cardiovascular health problems in adulthood.
Though highly-processed convenience foods are easy to throw into a school bag, our research shows the importance of preparing healthy snacks and meals. Think of it like saving for retirement: You’re making decisions now that will influence your child’s future.”
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