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Junk food may harm skeletal development in the young, study finds

New research by Hebrew University shows ultra-processed foods, which make up 70% of children’s caloric consumption, impair bone quality in young rodents

Sweets are on display at a shelf in a supermarket in London, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Sweets are on display at a shelf in a supermarket in London, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Eating junk food may harm young children’s skeletal development, researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered, based on a study of rodents.

A new study led by Efrat Monsonego-Ornan and Janna Zaretsky, both from the Department of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition at the university’s Faculty of Agriculture, showed that ultra-processed foods can cause reduced bone quality, which is especially harmful for young children in their developing years.

Published in the journal Bone Research, the study is the first to analyze the link between junk food and skeletal development.

Ultra-processed foods – foods that have been changed from their natural state through several phases of processing and that often contain added sugar, fat, salt, or artificial preservatives – have contributed to adverse health effects in consumers worldwide, including increased obesity.

These foods are attractive for their accessibility and low prices. Children especially like junk food, with 70% of their caloric consumption coming from ultra-processed foods on average, according to the Hebrew University.

Additionally, 50% of American children eat junk food on a daily basis. The study followed lab rodents whose skeletons were in the “post-embryonic stages of growth.” Those who were fed ultra-processed foods rich in fat and sugar suffered adverse effects in terms of their skeletal development, such as growth retardation.

Additionally, researchers found high levels of cartilage build-up in rodents’ growth plates – areas of new bone growth. The RNA genetic profiles of cartilage cells exposed to junk food demonstrated impaired bone development.

After adjusting the diets of the lab rats, researchers found that the rodents still suffered “moderate damage to their bone density,” but less cartilage build-up in growth plates.

“Our conclusion was that even in reduced amounts, the ultra-processed foods can have a definite negative impact on skeletal growth,” said Monsonego-Ornan.

“When Carlos Monteiro, one of the world’s leading experts on nutrition, said that there is no such thing as healthy ultra-processed food, he was clearly right. Even if we reduce fats, carbs nitrates and other known harmful substances, these foods still possess their damaging attributes.

“Every part of the body is prone to this damage and certainly those systems that remain in the critical stages of development,” Monsonego-Ornan added.

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