Ultra-Processed Food Linked To 32 Harmful Effects To Health, Study Finds

by Ella

A sweeping review published in the BMJ sheds light on the significant health implications associated with ultra-processed food (UPF), indicating a direct correlation between UPF consumption and 32 detrimental health effects. These effects include heightened risks of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, adverse mental health outcomes, and premature mortality, making it the largest review of its kind.

The surge in global consumption of UPF, encompassing items like cereals, protein bars, fizzy drinks, ready meals, and fast food, underscores the urgency of addressing its impact on public health. Alarmingly, the average diet in the UK and US comprises over half ultra-processed foods, with some segments, particularly among younger individuals or those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, reaching up to 80%.


The findings, published in the BMJ, are the culmination of an extensive review involving nearly 10 million individuals. Researchers from leading institutions, including Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the University of Sydney, and Sorbonne University, analyzed data to reveal a concerning pattern: diets high in UPF correlate with adverse health outcomes across various parameters, including mortality, cancer, and mental, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and metabolic health.


The study’s authors advocate for targeted interventions to reduce UPF exposure, emphasizing the urgent need for public health measures aimed at mitigating its harmful effects.


Ultra-processed foods, encompassing packaged baked goods, snacks, sugary cereals, and ready-to-eat meals, undergo extensive industrial processing and typically contain additives like colors, emulsifiers, and flavors. While high in added sugar, fat, and salt, these products are often deficient in essential nutrients like vitamins and fiber.


While previous studies have hinted at the adverse effects of UPF, this comprehensive review provides a consolidated assessment of existing evidence. Utilizing an umbrella review approach, researchers examined 45 distinct pooled meta-analyses from 14 review articles, incorporating data from nearly 10 million individuals.

The findings unequivocally link higher UPF consumption to a spectrum of health risks. Convincing evidence indicates a significant increase in cardiovascular disease-related mortality, anxiety, common mental disorders, and type 2 diabetes with greater UPF intake. Similarly, highly suggestive evidence points to elevated risks of all-cause mortality, heart disease-related mortality, obesity, depression, and sleep problems.

While associations with asthma, gastrointestinal health, certain cancers, and cardiometabolic risk factors are also noted, the researchers caution that evidence in these areas remains limited. Moreover, they acknowledge limitations, including potential confounding factors and variations in assessing UPF intake, which may have influenced the results.

Experts caution that much of the research included in the review was of weak quality and stress that the findings do not establish causation. However, Dr. Chris van Tulleken, an associate professor at University College London and a prominent UPF expert, underscores the consistency of these findings with a plethora of independent studies.

In a related editorial, academics from Brazil advocate for urgent action, characterizing UPFs as chemically manipulated, inexpensive ingredients made palatable through additives. They call for the development and implementation of a framework convention on ultra-processed foods, akin to tobacco control efforts.

In parallel, a separate study published in Lancet Public Health highlights the potential benefits of menu calorie labeling in preventing heart disease-related deaths in England. With over 9,000 preventable deaths projected over the next two decades, the study underscores the importance of proactive measures to combat diet-related health challenges.



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