The Good—and Bad—News About National Junk Food Day

Last Update: August 31, 2023

Chances are, you’re not reading about National Junk Food Day from a beach or a lounge chair in the yard, and it’s doubtful you’ll be attending a town parade later on this evening. You’re probably at work, and today is probably just a normal Tuesday. But for many Americans, this “holiday” is a chance to reflect on just how pervasive salty, sweet, processed food has become in our diets.

But are we really doomed to a life of potato chip mania? When it comes to what we’re eating, there’s good news and bad. We’ll get the good news out of the way first:

  • While snack food sales soared in 2014 to $374 billion globally—a year-over-year increase of two percent—we do seem to be choosing more healthful options. Organic and natural food sales have doubled in the United States in the last five years, from $40 billion in 2010 to an estimated $80 billion this year. It’s true around the globe as well. According to Nielson, 35 percent of consumers globally want their snack foods to be sourced sustainably, while 34 percent look for the organic label when shopping for snacks.
  • A huge part of the growth of this sector is the collective buying power of the millennial generation (Americans aged 18 to 34). Millennials are shaking up the snack food industry and could offer some hope for the future by demanding less junkier packaged foods. Overall, they’re willing to spend their limited financial resources on the foods they believe in, which is good news for brands like Skinny Pop and Kind that are cutting the junk and getting back to the basics.

But despite the glimmer of hope on this National Junk Food Day, there’s still plenty of cause for concern.

  • Americans are still frighteningly overweight—and getting fatter. A study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that obese Americans now outnumber overweight ones. Nearly 68 million Americans were obese in 2012, compared to 65 million who were overweight.
  • Food brands spend nearly $2 billion annually marketing foods and beverages directly to adolescents in the United States. Voluntary limitations on food marketing to kids have made minimal improvements but do not go nearly far enough, as researchers have found that junk food makers may now target kids even more than they did before the regulations.
  • The increase in healthier snacking over the last five years could be explained by an increasing in snack food consumption overall. IRI Worldwide reported in 2014 that Americans eat 2.8 snacks per day on average, up from 1.9 five years ago (a 67 percent increase). More than half of Americans report eating more than three snacks daily. All this snacking—even if it’s on healthier popcorn—is definitely not good for our waistlines or our overall health.

As you can see, we’ve improvements as a nation, but we have a long way to go before junk food is more the special treat than the norm. If today’s your annual “cheat day,” then by all means, go enjoy a candy bar or a bag of chips—and celebrate your uncharacteristically healthy lifestyle. But most of us should probably celebrate the day by ripping into a bag of snap peas.

Photo credit: Leon Ephraim via Unsplash

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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