Junk Food Junkies Scholarship Essays

"I know I should eat more bananas, better breakfasts, and less junk food—but I just don't want to!"

Sound familiar?

Yes, if you are among the cluster of athletes who rationalizes that your consumption of "junk food" is OK because you exercise hard, burn off the calories and hence "deserve" a reward.

You likely know an optimal sports diet includes more fresh fruits, more vegetables, more whole grains and less fast-and-fatty foods, gooey sweets and tempting treats.

But cinnamon rolls taste good. So do cheesburgers, potato chips and ice cream. What's life without ice cream? Or chocolate chip cookies?

Yes, the American diet includes an abundance of foods with lackluster nutrition. Some favorites have even been dubbed "heart attacks on a plate!" But for you, donuts are more fun than bran muffins. And bacon tastes better than oatmeal. Coke is preferable to skim milk.

Junk-Food Junkies

Let's face it, America's abundance of tempting treats is a haven for junk food junkies.

Junk food may be fun for the moment, but good health is better for the long run. Given the new year is a good time for "newtrition" resolutions, you may be ready to say "Enough is enough."

You know what you should eat, yet, you just don't want to: "Yuck—whole wheat bread, bran cereal, oatmeal, skim milk, spinach, fish, fruit for snacks and desserts."

If the thought of revamping your diet sends you running to Fast Food Alley, this article is designed to help you choose the road toward a healthier food plan that's livable.

Even you can eat well and still have fun with food. Here are a few suggestions.

Whole-Wheat Bread

If you are an aficionado of squishy white bread, just the thought of a sandwich on whole wheat slices can zap the fun out of your lunch. Take note: Whole wheat bread is not the only way to boost your intake of wholesome grains.

A reasonable goal is to have at least half of your grain-foods be unrefined. That means you can enjoy white bread for lunch and whole grains at other times: Cheerios, oatmeal or granola for breakfast; brown rice or corn (canned or frozen) with dinner; low-fat Triscuits, popcorn or baked corn chips for a snack.

Take note: A wholesome diet need not be a "perfect" diet (read, a diet that bans white bread).

In response to growing concerns about obesity among the nation's young people, school districts throughout the nation are weighing the question of whether to allow or exclude soda and "junk food" vending machines from their schools. Philadelphia (joining the cities of New York and Los Angeles, to name a few) plans to ban the sale of soda in its public schools, and other major districts around the country are considering such restrictions.

An August 2003 Gallup Youth Survey* suggests that access to junk food and soda in school is high, with two-thirds (68%) of teens (aged 13 to 17) saying that they have purchased these items from vending machines in their schools.

Although it's impossible to tell precisely how much school vending machines contribute to their total junk food intake, we do know that teens are eating a lot of it and aren't just relying on vending machines to sate their appetites. The survey finds that 84% of teens say they are likely to eat either "some" (61%) or "a great deal" (23%) of junk food in a typical week, while only 17% say that they eat hardly any or none. Moreover, 20% of teens say that they eat at fast-food restaurants (including take-out, drive-thru, and eat-in) several times a week (17%) or every day (3%). Few teens report that they eat at fast food restaurants a few times a year or less (8%).

How Many Teens Are Overweight?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reported that the number of children who are overweight has actually doubled in size in the last three decades, and that about 20% of children are now overweight. Consistent with the NIH findings, the Gallup survey finds that 23% of teenagers consider themselves to be "somewhat overweight" and another 3% feel that they are "very overweight."

The health habits of children are of great concern because eating patterns developed in childhood predict adult eating patterns. The NIH has found that 70% of overweight adolescents become overweight adults, and the NIH reports that the adverse health risks from obesity include Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, sleep apnea, orthopedic problems, and asthma, as well as social discrimination.

According to the Gallup survey, 13% of teenagers say that they are now on a diet to lose weight. Girls are twice as likely as boys to say that they are dieting (18% vs. 9%, respectively). However, in describing their personal weight situations, boys are equally as likely as girls to say that they are somewhat or very overweight. On the other hand, boys are nearly twice as likely as girls to say that they are somewhat underweight (13% vs. 7%).

Teens who say that they are now on a diet report consuming less junk food than those who are not currently dieting (10% of dieting teens report eating a great deal of junk food compared to 24% of those who say that they are not currently dieting). And teens describing themselves as somewhat or very overweight do report eating more junk food than those who describe their weight situations as about right or underweight.

Bottom Line

Gallup's survey indicates that the nation's youth are eating a lot of junk food on a regular basis. Many of the nation's school districts face a tough dilemma: During a period of financial belt tightening, they may finance additional school programs through revenue generated by soda and other vending contracts, while at the same time feeling responsible for helping their students make good nutritional choices. But even if schools decide to take action, the question remains: Will restricting or eliminating junk food from school vending machines have a major impact on teens' junk food consumption, or will they simply make their junk food purchases elsewhere?

*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 517 respondents, aged 13 to 17, between Aug. 1 and Aug. 29, 2003. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

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