Policies should limit ultraprocessed food intake, researchers say

Thursday, 30 May, 2019

Policies should limit ultraprocessed food intake, researchers say

Researchers are calling for policies that limit ultraprocessed food intake, after they found it could increase the risk of death by 60%.

Ultraprocessed foods such as packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks and sugary cereals contain high levels of added sugar and fat, and account for around 25–60% of daily energy intake. Two European studies have found positive associations between highly processed foods and risk of cardiovascular disease and death.

In the first study, researchers found a 10% increase in the consumption of ultraprocessed food was associated with an 11–13% increase in cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease.  Their findings were based on 105,159 French adults with an average age of 43 years who completed dietary questionnaires to measure usual intake of 3300 different food items as part of the NutriNet-Santé study.

In the second study, researchers asked 19,899 Spanish university graduates with an average age of 38 years to complete a 136-item dietary questionnaire as part of the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) study. Participants who ate more than four servings of processed food per day had a 62% increased risk of all-cause mortality compared to those who ate less than two servings. For each additional daily serving of ultraprocessed food, mortality risk relatively increased by 18%.

Although these studies are observational and so can’t establish causality, the results add to previous studies that link ultraprocessed foods to higher risks of health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and some cancers.

In an effort to improve public health, both research teams say policies should limit the consumption of ultraprocessed foods and promote healthier, unprocessed foods.

In a commentary, Deakin University researchers agreed: “Policy makers should shift their priorities away from food reformulation — which risks positioning ultra-processed food as a solution to dietary problems — towards a greater emphasis on promoting the availability, affordability, and accessibility of unprocessed or minimally processed foods.”

Both studies were published by The BMJ.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/artmim

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