Ultra-processed foods linked to premature deaths

Credit: David Holifield/ Unsplash

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are ready-to-eat-or-heat industrial formulations made with ingredients extracted from foods or synthesized in labs.

These foods have gradually been replacing traditional foods and meals made from fresh and minimally processed ingredients in many countries.

In a study from the University of São Paulo, scientists found that increased consumption of these foods was associated with more than 10% of all-cause premature, preventable deaths in Brazil in 2019.

But Brazilians consume far less of these products than countries with high incomes.

Previous studies have estimated the health and economic burden of critical ingredients, such as sodium, sugar and trans fats, and specific foods or drinks, such as sugar-sweetened beverages

In the current study, the team estimated intakes of UPFs. They estimated the proportion of total deaths that were attributable to the consumption of UPFs and the impact of reducing the intake of UPFs by 10%, 20%, and 50% within those age groups, using data from 2019.

They found consumption of UPFs ranged from 13% to 21% of total food intake in Brazil during the period studied.

A total of 541,260 adults aged 30 to 69 died prematurely in 2019, of whom 261,061 were from preventable, non-communicable diseases.

The model found that approximately 57,000 deaths that year could be attributed to the consumption of UPFs, which corresponded to 10.5% of all premature deaths and 21.8% of all deaths from preventable noncommunicable diseases in adults aged 30 to 69.

The team suggested that in high-income countries such as the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia, where UPFs account for more than half of total caloric intake, the estimated impact would be even higher.

Reducing the consumption of UPFs and promoting healthier food choices may require multiple interventions and public health measures.

Reducing the consumption of UPFs by 10% to 50% could potentially prevent approximately 5,900 to 29,300 premature deaths in Brazil each year.

Examples of UPFs are prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza, ready-to-eat meals, hot dogs, sausages, sodas, ice cream, and store-bought cookies, cakes, candies, and doughnuts.

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The study was conducted by Eduardo A.F. Nilson et al and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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