“Ultra-processed foods damage health and shorten life”

“Ultra-processed foods … encompass a broad range of ready to eat products, including packaged snacks, carbonated soft drinks, instant noodles, and ready-made meals. These products are characterized as industrial formulations primarily composed of chemically modified substances extracted from foods, along with additives to enhance taste, texture, appearance, and durability, with minimal to no inclusion of whole foods.”

“Analyses of worldwide ultra-processed food sales data and consumption patterns indicate a shift towards an increasingly ultra-processed global diet … Across high income countries, the share of dietary energy derived from ultra-processed foods ranges from 42% and 58% in Australia and the United States, respectively, to as low as 10% and 25% in Italy and South Korea. In low and middle income countries such as Colombia and Mexico, for example, these figures range from 16% to 30% of total energy intake, respectively.”

“… greater exposure to ultra-processed foods, whether measured as higher versus lower consumption, additional servings per day, or a 10% increment, was consistently associated with a higher risk of adverse health outcomes (71% of outcomes).”

“The strongest available evidence pertained to direct associations between greater exposure to ultra-processed foods and higher risks of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease related mortality, common mental disorder outcomes, overweight and obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Evidence for the associations of ultra-processed food exposure with asthma, gastrointestinal health, some cancers, and intermediate cardiometabolic risk factors remains limited and warrants further investigation.”

Featured article:

*Lane, M. M., Gamage, E., Du, S., Ashtree, D. N., McGuinness, A. J., Gauci, S., Baker, P., Lawrence, M., Rebholz, C. M., Srour, B., Touvier, M., Jacka, F. N., Adrienne O’Neil, Segasby, T., & Marx, W. (2024). Ultra-processed food exposure and adverse health outcomes: umbrella review of epidemiological meta-analyses. BMJ : British Medical Journal (Online), 384. [PDF] [Cited by]

“Objective: To evaluate the existing meta-analytic evidence of associations between exposure to ultra-processed foods, as defined by the Nova food classification system, and adverse health outcomes.

Design: Systematic umbrella review of existing meta-analyses.

Data sources: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Embase, and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, as well as manual searches of reference lists from 2009 to June 2023.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies: Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of cohort, case-control, and/or cross sectional study designs. To evaluate the credibility of evidence, pre-specified evidence classification criteria were applied, graded as convincing (“class I”), highly suggestive (“class II”), suggestive (“class III”), weak (“class IV”), or no evidence (“class V”). The quality of evidence was assessed using the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations) framework, categorised as “high,” “moderate,” “low,” or “very low” quality.

Results: The search identified 45 unique pooled analyses, including 13 dose-response associations and 32 non-dose-response associations (n=9 888 373). Overall, direct associations were found between exposure to ultra-processed foods and 32 (71%) health parameters spanning mortality, cancer, and mental, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and metabolic health outcomes. Based on the pre-specified evidence classification criteria, convincing evidence (class I) supported direct associations between greater ultra-processed food exposure and higher risks of incident cardiovascular disease related mortality (risk ratio 1.50, 95% confidence interval 1.37 to 1.63; GRADE=very low) and type 2 diabetes (dose-response risk ratio 1.12, 1.11 to 1.13; moderate), as well as higher risks of prevalent anxiety outcomes (odds ratio 1.48, 1.37 to 1.59; low) and combined common mental disorder outcomes (odds ratio 1.53, 1.43 to 1.63; low). Highly suggestive (class II) evidence indicated that greater exposure to ultra-processed foods was directly associated with higher risks of incident all cause mortality (risk ratio 1.21, 1.15 to 1.27; low), heart disease related mortality (hazard ratio 1.66, 1.51 to 1.84; low), type 2 diabetes (odds ratio 1.40, 1.23 to 1.59; very low), and depressive outcomes (hazard ratio 1.22, 1.16 to 1.28; low), together with higher risks of prevalent adverse sleep related outcomes (odds ratio 1.41, 1.24 to 1.61; low), wheezing (risk ratio 1.40, 1.27 to 1.55; low), and obesity (odds ratio 1.55, 1.36 to 1.77; low). Of the remaining 34 pooled analyses, 21 were graded as suggestive or weak strength (class III-IV) and 13 were graded as no evidence (class V). Overall, using the GRADE framework, 22 pooled analyses were rated as low quality, with 19 rated as very low quality and four rated as moderate quality.

Conclusions: Greater exposure to ultra-processed food was associated with a higher risk of adverse health outcomes, especially cardiometabolic, common mental disorder, and mortality outcomes. These findings provide a rationale to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of using population based and public health measures to target and reduce dietary exposure to ultra-processed foods for improved human health. They also inform and provide support for urgent mechanistic research.”

See also —

Getting kids hooked on sugary beverages

AAP guidelines–avoid certain chemicals that are added to or leach into food

Questions? Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).