The increase in junk food intake in India has led to an increase in the percentage of overweight and obese schoolchildren in India, from 9.7% to 13.9% between 2001 and 2010.
However, data on junk food consumption in rural areas has been scant. As such, researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences performed a study to assess junk food intake among schoolchildren in Himachal Pradesh.
Costs and consumption
They recruited 425 children (208 male, 217 female) aged 12 to 18 from 30 government schools; 32 (8%) were of lower SES (socioeconomic status), 219 (51%) were of middle SES, and 173 (41%) were of high SES.
They then observed that in the 24 hours leading up to the study, 153 (36%) had consumed junk food. Of these children, 68 (44%) were boys and 85 (56%) were girls. However, there was no statistical difference in the junk food intake between the two sexes.
They also found that children in the high SES group consumed the most junk food (48%), while those in the low SES group consumed the least (6%); this was mainly due to the high cost of energy-dense foods.
The most popular junk food item was chips (consumed by 71% of the children, followed by chocolate (14%), baked goods (13%), soft drinks (7%), and sugary drinks (5%).
The researchers also noted that most of the junk food consumed was from shops outside school, bought in the evening after school hours. At the same time, the schools had no canteens.
They added that the high prevalence of junk food consumption among schoolchildren in rural Himachal Pradesh existed despite the high awareness of the negative effects of such dietary choices. This was due to the selection of foods being driven primarily by taste instead of nutritional content.
They therefore concluded: "There is need to initiate nutrition interventions to reduce the high intake of junk food by educating school-aged children — and teachers — regarding the possible deteriorating health consequences of junk food, with the external support of researchers and public health educators
"This may help in inculcating the practice of the consumption of healthy foods from a young age. The formation of laws to regulate the marketing and advertising of junk food in and around school premises may be helpful in reducing the consumption of junk food among children."
Source: Indian Journal of Public Health
Vol. 62, issue 1
"Consumption of junk foods by school-aged children in rural Himachal Pradesh, India"
Authors: Aakriti Gupta, et al.