Q: My doctor told me to stay from JUNCS. I have never heard of that before.
A: JUNCS is an acronym for: junk food; ultra-processed foods; nutritionally inappropriate foods; caffeinated/colored/carbonated foods/beverages; and sugar-sweetened beverages. And I am quite sure why your doctor told you that.
Theme of several of my health columns have been about obesity, its rising trend, early onset of obesity, health concerns related to obesity.
I have also written about the prevention of obesity.
Remember that for the most part, and I would say more than 95% of the time, obesity is related to excess caloric intake. Yes, there are some medical and genetic conditions that can lead to obesity but those are rare. Obesity for the most part is defined as elevated body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight for height and the graphs are easily found on the internet (CDC website is a good place to look).
The BMI varies for children and boys and girls, but is constant in adults as adults have attained their height. Yes, in adults BMI varies between different cultures. Asians have lower normal BMI’s than Caucasians.
Obesity as you are aware, has many connotations. Psychological effects, poor sleep, less energy, and multitude of illnesses including diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis, increased risk of malignancy, poorer self-esteem, lower overall income, more hospital visits, more medication intake and many more.
It also was evident, the in the Covid pandemic obese individuals who already run a higher degree of inflammation in their body faced higher morbidity and mortality rates.
As obesity rates rise all over the world, governments and their partners for health are worried. Several schemes have been launched, some more effective than others in treatment or prevention of obesity. JUNCS is yet another attempt to control poor choices being made for buying and consuming food.
Many Latin American countries, Southeast Asian countries and others have adopted FOPL: front of pack label. This means that for all foods that are unhealthy, a label has been put on the front of the packet to warn consumers. Something akin to cigarette packets. In some nations, for e.g., Chile, just by warning consumers right before they consume the unhealthy product, there has been a drop in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by a whopping 24%. Such warnings have been found to be more useful than the actual nutrition label that includes all the contents, calories, sodium, etc., of that food item being consumed.
This kind of labelling is not currently followed in the U.S. But it is something that is being considered in various parts of the world and in some countries, as mentioned above, benefits are being seen. Nevertheless, an average consumer should be aware of JUNCS and avoid their consumption as much as possible, and certainly not buy them for home consumption.
Now it is well known that the treatment of obesity is extremely hard and truly the practical way forward is preventing obesity in the first place. Hence the emphasis on avoiding unhealthy food choices and certainly plotting on a growth chart and specifically a BMI chart, would be a good way to catch a child moving towards overweight and obesity early and take remedial actions.
So the bottom line is: avoid JUNCS (junk food, ultra-processed foods, nutritionally inappropriate foods, caffeinated/colored/carbonated foods/beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages) even if it is not mentioned as a FOPL (front of pack label).
Pankaj Vohra is a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at UNM. Please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.