Press Release

Teens ate less ultra processed food consumption during pandemic reversing trend of three decades

Atlanta, GA June 13, 2022
For the first time in the last 30 years, the consumption of ultra-processed foods among teenagers in the United States declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study presented at ENDO 2022, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Atlanta, Ga.

The decline in junk food consumption among teens took place in the wake of several unprecedented changes brought by the pandemic, including the closure of schools, social restrictions and the shift to working from home, according to lead researcher Maria Balhara of Broward College in Davie, Fl.

“We found that teenagers' consumption of these foods has decreased significantly during COVID-19,” she said. “Further, the decrease has been sustainable and continued its downward trend even after easing pandemic restrictions.”

Energy drinks, potato chips, sugary sodas and candy are considered ultra-processed and are widely linked to rising obesity and expanding waistlines, Balhara noted. Previous research has found that ultra-processed food intake now comprises 67% of the adolescent diet.

The new findings come from 452 participants ages 13 to 19 in the Processed Intake Evaluation (PIE) study. The study found that after the COVID-19 restrictions were introduced, participants’ average ultra-processed food consumption score dropped by nearly 6%, and it continued to decline as the COVID-19 restrictions later eased. It is now almost 14% below the level it was before the pandemic began.

The PIE study will ultimately enroll 1,800 participants, and the researchers will evaluate ultra-processed food consumption in this larger group.

“The early findings of this study provide an encouraging signal and a window of opportunity for strengthening nutritional and behavioral programs aimed at curbing the obesity epidemic,” Balhara said.

About Endocrine Society

Endocrinologists are at the core of solving the most pressing health problems of our time, from diabetes and obesity to infertility, bone health, and hormone-related cancers. The Endocrine Society is the world’s oldest and largest organization of scientists devoted to hormone research and physicians who care for people with hormone-related conditions.

The Society has more than 18,000 members, including scientists, physicians, educators, nurses and students in 122 countries. To learn more about the Society and the field of endocrinology, visit our site at www.endocrine.org. Follow us on Twitter at @TheEndoSociety and @EndoMedia.

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