Ultra Processed Foods & Health

The Guardian recently reported on a new study linking consumption of ultra processed foods to 32 different negative health outcomes. The original study, by Lane et al. (2024) published this year in the British Medical Journal, was a systematic umbrella review of existing meta-analyses pertaining to ultra processed foods. For the analysis, cohort, case-control, and/or cross sectional studies were included, and graded accordingly using the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluations) framework, which includes 5 classifications: convincing (“class I”), highly suggestive (“class II”), suggestive (“class III”), weak (“class IV”), or no evidence (“class V”). The study overall indicated direct associations between exposure to ultra-processed foods and 32 (71%) health parameters spanning earlier all-cause mortality, cancer, and poor mental, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and metabolic health outcomes. Overall, 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.

Breaking down the results using the GRADE framework, specifically, results indicated convincing evidence (class I) for cardiovascular disease related mortality, common mental disorder outcomes, and type 2 diabetes (dose-response); highly suggestive evidence (class II) all cause mortality, heart disease related mortality, adverse sleep related outcomes, wheezing, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.; suggestive evidence (class III) for risks of abdominal obesity to overweight; class IV (weak evidence) colorectal cancer and overweight and obesity (evaluated together as single outcome); and finally lacking evidence (class V), spanning conditions from asthma to ulcerative colitis. It’s important to note that where evidence is weaker, this could be explained by the lack of studies conducted with relation to these areas measured, rather than a lack of correlation or causality.

This new study by Lane et al. (2024) is important for further substantiating the links between ultra processed foods and poor health outcomes. However, further high quality research is required to explore these areas further, particularly health areas which are less well substantiated by the research to date.

If you are interested to learn more, sign up for free at www.nutritank.com. If you enjoyed this article, you may find these recent webinars regarding Ultra Processed Foods interesting:

Exploring the scientific debate and public perception of ultra-processed foods By David Titman:

The Role of Diet and Lifestyle in Cancer Prevention By Matt Lambert

How to lower obesity, health inequalities, diabetes & heart disease and save the NHS money – at negligible cost By Fran Bernhardt


The Guardian. Ultra-processed food linked to 32 harmful effects to health, review finds. https://amp.theguardian.com/society/2024/feb/28/ultra-processed-food-32-harmful-effects-health-review

Lane M M, Gamage E, Du S, Ashtree D N, McGuinness A J, Gauci S et al. Ultra-processed food exposure and adverse health outcomes: umbrella review of epidemiological meta-analyses BMJ 2024; 384 :e077310 doi:10.1136/bmj-2023-077310

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