It’s Not Junk Food, It’s You

A study published today in Obesity Science & Practice says that efforts to steer eaters away from junk food have been far too simplistic. In fact, for roughly 95 percent of Americans, junk food consumption plays little to no role in their body mass...

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Nov 5 2015, 11:00pm

Photo via Flickr user leahwsprague

It's news that's worth shouting from the rooftops. Or a tall stool, at the very least. The infamous bastard of the culinary landscape known as junk food might have been given its final ray of salvation. And you best believe fast food won't let this good news slip through its heavily salted grasp, either.

That's right, fellow snacktivists, your day of vindication has arrived and, boy, is it glorious. A study published just today by the journal Obesity Science & Practice states that efforts to steer eaters away from junk food have been far too simplistic. In fact, the study found that for roughly 95 percent of Americans, junk food consumption plays little to no role in their body mass index.

While there are clear exceptions to these findings—the morbidly obese and the underweight did not follow the rule—the study posits that weight loss is about far more than simply making sure you don't continually double-fist potachos. One of the study's lead authors, David R. Just of Cornell University, believes that demonizing one particular type of food, as opposed to focusing on the entire picture, is a mistake we have all been making.

READ: Junk Food Is Literally Shrinking Your Brain

"It's not just [junk food], and we can't just target these foods," Just explained. "It's really the entire diet … If we're talking about food policy to curb obesity, if all we do is pick out a few villain foods, our policy is going to be pretty ineffective," he said.

For purposes of this study, junk food was defined as soft drinks, French fries, desserts, and sweet and salty snacks.

We have to admit, it certainly would be easier if we could just cut out one type of food—fats, carbs, soda—and lose weight. But this new study suggests that we all need to "consider the whole nutrition picture instead of fixating on a few factors," Just explained.

The study was conducted by looking at weight and diet information from 5,000 adults who completed two surveys about what they ate in a 24-hour period. A slight negative correlation was found between body mass index and eating junk food—which means that people with a slightly lower BMI ate more junk food. The correlation was not considered statistically significant, but did show that eating junk food, when considered alone, does not make people fat.

Granted, the study is based on epidemiological and observational research. As Dr. Ken Fujioka, a Scripps Health endocrinologist, points out to the San Diego Union-Tribune. A controlled, randomized trial would have produced more rigorous results. Still, as Dr. Eduardo Grunvald, of UC San Diego's Weight Management Program says, "When you're talking about obesity, you're really talking about weight regulation. You can never target just one aspect and make a huge impact. When I treat patients, I have to look at every single aspect from their diet to their physical activity, to their medication, to their social support, to their microenvironment to their macroenvironment."

In other words, there are no shortcuts in the weight loss arena. Search as we will for a demon food that is making us all fat, the truth is that the reason we, the Western world, are so overweight is more nuanced, complicated, and difficult to remedy.

So a little junk food? Meh. It's not the source of all evil.