Junk food, even small amounts, can stunt growth in children and weaken their bones

JERUSALEM — Junk food warnings typically relate to one’s heart health or risk for obesity, but a new study says munching on processed, sugary snacks poses a serious threat to the bones of growing kids. Researchers say that highly-processed foods can stunt skeletal growth and leave children with weaker bones — even in small amounts.

Tests on mice show that foods with high fat and sugar levels, along with lots of additives, damage growth plates. The plates, made of soft, flexible cartilage, are found at the end of long bones, like those in the arms and legs. As the name suggests, they’re areas of new bone growth in children and teens.

“Our conclusion was that even in reduced amounts, the ultra-processed foods can have a definite negative impact on skeletal growth,” says professor Erfat Monsonego-Ornan, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in a statement. “When Carlos Monteiro, one of the world’s leading experts on nutrition, said that there is no such thing as a 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,” she adds.

While links between obesity and other mental and metabolic diseases on humans of all ages have been shown in previous studies, the researchers wanted to find out more about the possible effects on bones. This is the first comprehensive analysis to focus on how these kinds of foods affect skeletal development.

Around 70 percent of children’s calories are made up of “ultra-processed” food. These products undergo several stages of processing before being packaged up for kids to scarf down. Previous studies suggest around half of youngsters eat some form of junk food every single day.

So, to make their finding, the research team fed young mice a similar diet. After just six weeks, the rodents showed significant bone weakness and stunted growth in comparison to their counterparts fed a healthier diet.

“Our findings highlight, for the first time, the severe impact of consuming ultra-processed foods on the growing skeleton,” says Monsonego-Ornan. “This pathology extends far beyond that explained by the known metabolic effects, highlighting bone as a new target for studies of modern diets.”

The study is published in the journal Bone Research.

SWNS writer William Janes contributed to this report.

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