Americans Crave Too Much Junk Food

Even though most Americans know too much junk food is unhealthy, 90 percent consume more than experts recommend. Why? A significant underlying cause is aggressive marketing.

Americans consumed far less junk when it wasn’t so widespread. Consumption accelerated when marketers discovered they could stimulate “impulse buys” just by increasing junk food availability or salience through vending machines, at cash registers and on end-aisle displays.

Now, junk food is so visible where consumers shop for food and in so many non-food retail outlets — hardware stores, bookstores, car washes, offices — that it’s difficult for people to avoid encountering it wherever they go.

Because humans evolved in an environment of scarcity, they’re naturally drawn to foods that pack a lot of calories. They also reflexively pay more attention to food than most things in their environments. And the sight of food — especially tempting items high in salt, sugar, and fat — whets the appetite, automatically eliciting sensations of hunger and leading to greater consumption.