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Junk Food Intake Among Adults in the United States


Dunford, Elizabeth K.; Popkin, Barry M.; & Ng, Shu Wen (Online ahead of print). Junk Food Intake Among Adults in the United States. Journal of Nutrition. PMCID: PMC Journal - In Process


BACKGROUND: There is no consensus on how to define "junk food." In 2016, Chile implemented the most comprehensive set of obesity-preventive regulations in the world, including criteria to define unhealthy foods.
OBJECTIVES: The objective of this study was to examine the amount of energy, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat consumed by US adults defined as junk food using the Chilean criteria.
METHODS: We used 2 nationally representative surveys of food intake in 10,001 US adults: NHANES 2015-2016 and NHANES 2017-2018. The main outcome measures were the contributions of energy, total sugars, saturated fat, and sodium deriving from junk food sources. Mean intake and proportion of energy, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium for junk food overall and each food category were calculated.
RESULTS: Overall, 47% of energy, 75% of total sugar, 46% of sodium, and 48% of saturated fat consumed by US adults derived from junk food sources. Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) were responsible for more than 40% of total sugar intake deriving from junk foods. Non-Hispanic black adults had the highest mean energy, total sugar, and sodium intake deriving from junk foods, with non-Hispanic white adults having the highest saturated fat intake. Non-Hispanic black adults had the highest intake of total sugar deriving from junk food sources of SSBs (26.7 g/d), with SSBs representing >40% of total sugar intake deriving from junk food sources for all race/ethnic groups.
CONCLUSIONS: Foods that meet the Chilean criteria for junk food provide approximately half or more daily energy and food components to limit in the diet of US adults, with important differences observed between race/ethnic groups. Policy efforts to reduce junk food intake, particularly the intake of SSBs, must be expanded to improve the cardiometabolic health equitably in the United States.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published

Online ahead of print

Journal Title

Journal of Nutrition


Dunford, Elizabeth K.
Popkin, Barry M.
Ng, Shu Wen

Article Type



PMC Journal - In Process

Data Set/Study

National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)


United States of America


Popkin - 0000-0001-9495-9324
Ng - 0000-0003-0582-110X