The National Heart Forum says this:

There is no universally accepted definition of junk food but broadly it can be defined as 'non-nutritious food'. It provides calories or 'fuel' for the body to fill children up but has few health promoting nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals.

It is food that provides 'empty calories' and has high concentrations of refined sugars, fat, salt, colourings, preservatives, artificial flavourings and artificial sweeteners. Things that eaten in excess can prove detrimental to health at any age.

However, it is not necessarily harmful to eat junk food occasionally and in moderation.

Oxford dictionary definition

The Oxford English Dictionary simply defines junk food as (noun) 'food with little nutritional value'.

The effects of junk food on children

A diet consisting mostly of junk food can have the following effects on children:

  • a lack of energy
  • poor concentration - impairing the ability to learn in class
  • hyperactively and behavioural problems
  • mood swings
  • constipation
  • obesity

In the longer-term obesity causes other serious and sometimes life threatening health complications including:

  • heart disease
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • sleep apnea

What the Government says

To see what the government says visit the Department for Education and Skills website's 'Healthy school lunches for pupils in secondary schools' section.

The DfES website provides practical school dinner recommendations and self-monitoring for infant, junior and secondary schools in England. These indicate what your local school should be doing.

Revision of school food guidelines eagerly awaited

'Hungry for Success' used in Scotland are considered by public health professionals to be the gold standard as they are nutrient, rather than food based. However, the guidelines for England are currently being revised by the Caroline Walker Trust and due out summer 2005.