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Study shows more Americans are reaching for junk food to combat COVID-19 stress

Making smart food choices is key for a healthy lifestyle
How much junk food do Americans really eat?
Posted at 2:44 PM, Feb 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-19 14:46:34-05

(WXYZ) — The American diet has always been in the spotlight for playing a role in high obesity and chronic diseases rates. Since the start of the pandemic, the situation has gotten worse as more folks have been turning to junk food.

A new study published in MDPI reveals that 52% of Americans have been consuming more unhealthy snacks and desserts since the start of the pandemic, and this is a major concern for health experts.

Michigander, Philip Bauman says, before the pandemic, he was eating healthy, but once COVID hit, the 32-year-old's life dived into the world of junk food. When asked what the driving factor was, Philip said, "I guess seasonal depression, your home, your bored, what else do you do,"

That’s pretty much everyone’s story since the pandemic hit. Dr. Mark Mincolla, a Nutritional Therapist, says increased stress levels over the last two years have translated to more folks packing unhealthy calories.

"They look for addictive components, addictive foods, sugar, junk food, starches, and they become addicted to the quick instant gratification," said Mincolla.

Ascension Michigan Weight Loss Dietician Kristy Stevenson describes junk food as anything edible with very little to no nutrients.

"Sugar, fat, sodium that’s in those junk foods, then increases comorbid conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease," said Stevenson.

"Obesity is now 20% of the population. That's incredible," said Mincolla. "10 years ago, obesity was 6%. Its gone from 6% to 20% in a short period, and I think carbs, starches have everything to do with that."

According to health experts, these comorbidities impact an individual’s immunity, creating a perfect storm for COVID-19 to cause maximum damage.

"They are not going to have that fighting power to fight that virus," said Stevenson.

Stevenson says if you have constant cravings for junk food, then there is a good chance you are addicted. A way to fight the urge is to keep a food log and make smarter choices.

"That’s my weakness in the afternoon," said Stevenson. "Between lunch and dinner, I'm at the office and going for that sweet food. So then pack a healthy snack you can take with you to work, or maybe it's at home if you are working from home, and that’s a big problem because people working from home have too much access to those things in their cupboard."

Other things that could be a game-changer is avoiding eating late at night and, if there is an urge, going for a healthy plant-based option like carrot and hummus.

"Brush your teeth, floss and use mouth wash, really clean the palate, there is a connection with the brain and mint and cleaning of the palate that can redirect those cravings," said Stevenson.

Another pro tip, if all fails, pop in some sugar-free gum. This will trick your brain into believing you are eating something but, in reality, keeping your belly away from all the unwanted calories.