Drowning in Junk: How Ultra-processed Foods Are Killing Us

Share this with a friend


Season 1, Episode 21 Guest: Barry M. Popkin, PhD

You are what you eat and our food is killing too many of us. We need to turn back the clocks and eat like grandma. Our diets lack enough healthy food and improving nutrition would make the biggest impact on our health. Join Kathleen Zelman and Dr. Barry Popkin, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at UNC Chapel Hill, as they dive into the changes in food and habits that have had the greatest impact on our nation’s children and adults.

The number of eating occasions has been the major change over the last 20 years contributing to overweight, obesity and chronic diseases. It has gone from snacking once daily with healthy foods to snacking three-four times a day with nutrient poor ultra-processed foods.

Kids need snacks, learn about the best snacks to enjoy, impact of sugar and how food labeling can improve what we choose.

Key Messages on How Ultra-processed Foods Are Killing Us:

  • Roughly 60% of calories eaten in U.S. are ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat.
  • Ultra-processed foods are loaded with fat, sugar, calories, and additives. These foods have the greatest negative impact on our health.
  • Most ultra-processed foods are not satisfying, and have addictive qualities.
  • Not all processed foods are bad for your health, choose minimally processed foods.
  • All sugars – honey, maple syrup, agave and more – are the same and act the same in the body.
  • Fresh fruit is more filling and nutritious than the juice. Liquid calories are not as satisfying.
  • Treats are fine in moderation.

Barry Popkin PhD Headshot

Barry M. Popkin, PhD

Barry M. Popkin, PhD developed the concept of the Nutrition Transition, the study of the dynamic shifts in our environment and the way they affect dietary intake and physical activity patterns and trends and obesity and other nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases. His research program focuses globally (both the US and low and middle income countries on understanding the shifts in stages of the transition and programs and policies to improve the population health linked with this transition.

He has played a central role in placing the concerns of global obesity, its determinants, and consequences on the global stage and is now actively involved in work on the program and policy design and evaluation side at the US and global levels, including collaborative evaluation research in Mexico (with the National Institute of Public Health), with the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology, University of Chile, and two SPH’s at WITS and the University of Western Cape in South Africa and many others (see his global food research program). 

He has mentored over 66 PhDs and large numbers of junior faculty and postdocs. He has received over a dozen major awards for his global contributions, including: 2016 World Obesity Society: Population Science & Public Health Award – for top global researcher in public health with also significant service contributions; 2015 UK Rank Science Prize; and The Obesity Society Mickey Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award.

He has published over 600 refereed journal articles and PLOS rated him as one of the top cited scholars in the world among 7 million scholars in 2017  (rated number 203 out of 6.8 million or in the top 0.003% scientists in the world; H-178).

True Health Revealed


Meet Our Experts

In this engaging podcast series, health experts reveal the truth about lifestyle as medicine and share empowering ways to improve your life with each episode.




Support Our Work

Your generous donation will help put an end to preventable disease and safeguard the health of our shared planet. We thank you in advance for supporting changes in policy that will create changes in culture and a healthier future.