People might think of junk food as a greasy burger or a deep fried mars bar but you’d be surprised to find out that junk food has a much wider reach and has been slowly but surely working its way into nearly every household in Britain. Whether it’s a few scoops of ice-cream, the odd sausage roll, or a few pieces of chocolate, it’s easy to get into a dangerous habit.

But why do people love junk food so much? A survey we conducted showed that more than a quarter of Brits have named chocolate as their favourite junk food, followed by almost one fifth preferring chips as their junk food of choice.  The survey found that nearly 70% of people say it’s because it tastes good but only around 8% said they thought it was because they were addicted to sugar.

The truth is, us humans could almost be forgiven for craving junk food, as our biology is hard-wired to enjoy it. For our primate ancestors, and early human hunter-gatherers, seeking out sweeter fruits ensured higher energy intake, thus helping avoid starvation. Likewise, cravings for fatty foods ensured that we took in the oils and fats that are essential to human function, such as omega-3 and omega-6, as well as fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, E and K. Even salt (sodium chloride), despite all the efforts to reduce intake, is in fact essential for normal bodily function.

With advanced food production however, we no longer need to rely on these cravings to ensure we eat enough. Our biology has not adapted fast enough though and, whilst these natural cravings once ensured our survival, they are now our downfall.

Why is junk food so bad for you? Junk food tends to break every rule of the eat well guide. It tends to be high in either fat, sugar or salt (if not all three!) and these are often in the wrong form, such as refined sugar, or unhealthy saturated fats.  They very rarely offer any useful nutrients such as vitamins, minerals or fibre, due to the lack of fresh ingredients, and being over-processed. So whilst a treat is a treat, relying on junk food is doubly harmful, as it’s not just what you’re eating that’s unhealthy, but also what you’re missing out on!

As junk food is almost always high in calories, it can easily lead to us putting on weight. Weight alone has been linked to an increased risk of 11 common cancers, which is extremely concerning given that about two in every three adults in the UK are now overweight or obese.

That’s why we have launched a new campaign this Cancer Prevention Week (9-15 May) called Dump the Junk which is encouraging people to give up one of their most unhealthy vices, such as burgers, chips or chocolate, for the month of June. By taking part we hope that people will start to feel the health benefits from eating a healthier diet – just in time for the summer – as well as raise funds for cancer prevention. Those taking part can ask friends and family to sponsor them, donate the money they save from cutting out their vice or they can pay a fine if they decide to cheat! We’ll also be offering people plenty of support through the month.

If you are interested in taking part in the lead in to Food Revolution Day, then check out www.dumpthejunk.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @WCRF_UK using the hashtag #DumptheJunk.

About Sarah Toule

Sarah Toule, Head of Health Information at World Cancer Research Fund, is a nutritionist with 12 years experience in the charity sector. She focuses on cancer and public health, and delivering health promotion initiatives to raise awareness of cancer and empower the public to make positive changes to their health behaviour. As Head of Health Information at World Cancer Research Fund UK, she ensures that our cancer prevention knowledge is translated into clear and engaging information for health professionals and the public.