Fast food and unhealthy eating concept – close up of fast food and sugary drinks

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Junk food, in a way, is as American as hot dogs and cheeseburger. Filling our bellies with candy and other sweet treats can feel like a traditional must whether we’re at the movies, an amusement park, or a child’s birthday party. Of course, in this health-centric day and age, we’re all aware (or at least should be) that eating junk food often is not the best idea.

But all that sugary, processed goodness can be intoxicating and hard to avoid for some. So what exactly does junk food do to your body? StudyFinds has published plenty of research over the years showing how sweets and processed foods are terrible for overall health.

Here are five notable pieces of research that demonstrate why junk food is so bad for you. Take note before you might make your stomach a junkyard for scrap.

Junk food kills off healthy bacteria in the gut, triggers harmful inflammation

Apparently, there’s a good reason “junk food” has that name. Junk food disrupts healthy gut balance by killing off the good bacteria in your body. Diets containing animal products, alcohol, and sugar are wreaking havoc on human gut health, researchers warn.

In a study of 1,425 people, scientists found that processed foods have a link to harmful bacteria across all participants. These foods include meats, soft drinks, and other items that fall into the “fast food cluster.”

In the absence of fiber, these bacteria turn to the mucus layer of the gut to feed off, leading to an erosion of the integrity of the gut. Processed and animal-derived foods displayed a consistent link with species of bacteria that increase inflammation. These bacteria are known for their anti-inflammatory effects in the intestine through fermentation of fiber to SCFAs (short-chain fatty acids). It also increases the risk of potentially deadly conditions including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

READ MORE: Junk food kills off healthy bacteria in your gut and triggers harmful inflammation

Dramatically raises risk of early death

An Italian study offers an even more dire warning for junk food lovers. Researchers say that ultra-processed foods greatly increase the chances of an early death, especially from heart disease.

People who eat too much ultra-processed food – such as potato chips and sugary beverages – are over 50 percent more likely to suffer from heart problems and die prematurely, according to the study.

The eating habits and health of 22,000 people were examined over an eight-year period. Along with people who regularly consume ultra-processed foods increasing their risk of death by a quarter, the threat of heart disease skyrockets even further. Eating these foods increases a person’s chances of death by cardiovascular disease by a staggering 58 percent.

READ MORE: Eating ultra-processed foods dramatically raises the risk of early death

Higher risk of developing osteoarthritis

Diets high in saturated fat increase a person’s risk of developing osteoarthritis. Cartilage deteriorates faster, especially in the knees and hips, because of high-fat, high-carbohydrate diets, researchers say.

High levels of saturated fat, commonly found in food additives like butter, coconut oil, palm oil, and animal fat caused the cartilage in joints to deteriorate faster. Saturated fatty acid deposits in the cartilage change metabolism and weaken the cartilage, making it more prone to damage. Hence, this would lead to osteoarthritic pain from the loss of the cushioning effect of cartilage.

In addition, the study says that even  bones themselves under the cartilage were changed by a diet high in saturated fats.

READ MORE: All that junk food may lead you to developing osteoarthritis, study says

Junk food impacts chances of being in an accident

Motorists whose diets are loaded with sugar, processed meats, and junk food are more likely to be involved in a car accident, a new study finds. Snacking on burgers, sausage rolls, and biscuits – or guzzling soft drinks — is linked to riskier behavior behind the wheel, too.

Researchers examined 817 Estonian drivers consuming plenty of fried foods in their diet, noting that higher accident and driving conviction rates were identified among these people.  Results show that subjects who drink energy drinks at least once a week were twice as likely to speed as those who didn’t consume them as often. The drivers’ underlying psychological makeup may lead them both to speed, thus wanting to consume more energy drinks or junk food.

Police and insurance database records showed 137 participants who had been cautioned for speeding tended to have faster reaction times. Thus, showing that those with fast decision-making skills were 11% more likely to speed, and those with higher excitement seeking were 13% more likely to speed.

The increase in calories isn’t the only problem to consider when eating on the road. High sugar and fat content may briefly increase alertness, but it can cause a reduction in concentration levels and mood. Results show that there is a psychological connection between eating junk food and driving convictions or car accidents. It is associated with a gene that metabolizes serotonin – a brain chemical targeted by antidepressants.

READ MORE: Junk driving: How your diet can impact your chances of being in a car accident

Stunts growth in children, weaken their bones

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

In the study, mice were tested with foods high in fat and sugar levels, along with lots of additives. Results show damaged growth plates of these mice, comparable to areas of new bone growth in children and teens. Moreover, the ultra-processed foods had a definite negative impact on skeletal growth even in small amounts. Even if reducing fatscarbs, nitrates, and other known harmful substances, these foods still possess their damaging attributes.

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.

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

Just because you have a healthy weight doesn’t mean that eating junk food won’t impact your health. No matter your BMI or body fat percentage, processed food and sugary treats take a serious toll on your body. If you’re concerned about your diet, it’s helpful to speak with your doctor or a nutritionist who can help you find better alternatives when it comes to having a sweet tooth.

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StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink


Chris Melore


Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor