A 30-year US study links ultra-processed foods to a higher risk of premature death

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Higher consumption of most ultra-processed foods is associated with a slightly higher risk of death, with ready-to-eat meat, poultry and seafood-based products, sugary drinks, dairy-based desserts and highly processed breakfast foods showing the strongest associations . finds a 30-year American study The BMJ Today.

The researchers say that not all ultra-processed food products should be universally restricted, but that their findings “provide support for limiting consumption of certain types of ultra-processed foods for long-term health.”

Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, carbonated drinks, sugary breakfast cereals, and ready-to-eat or hot foods. They often contain colorings, emulsifiers, flavorings and other additives and are typically high in energy, added sugars, saturated fat and salt, but lack vitamins and fiber.

Growing evidence links ultra-processed foods to higher risks of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer, but few long-term studies have examined links to all-cause and specific deaths, especially from cancer.

To address this knowledge gap, researchers tracked the long-term health of 74,563 female nurses from 11 U.S. states in the Nurses’ Health Study (1984-2018) and of 39,501 male health care workers from all 50 U.S. states in the Health Professionals Follow-up up. Study (1986-2018) with no history of cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes at study enrollment.

Every two years, participants provided information about their health and lifestyle habits, and every four years they completed a detailed dietary questionnaire. Overall diet quality was also assessed using the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI) score.

During an average follow-up period of 34 years, the researchers identified 48,193 deaths, including 13,557 deaths from cancer, 11,416 deaths from cardiovascular disease, 3,926 deaths from respiratory diseases and 6,343 deaths from neurodegenerative diseases.

Compared to participants in the lowest quarter of ultra-processed food intake (average 3 servings per day), those in the highest quarter (average 7 servings per day) had a 4% higher risk of total deaths and a 9% higher risk of other diseases. deaths, including an 8% increased risk of neurodegenerative deaths.

No links were found for deaths from cardiovascular disease, cancer or respiratory diseases.

In absolute numbers, mortality from any cause among participants in the lowest and highest quarters of ultra-processed food intake was 1,472 and 1,536 per 100,000 person-years, respectively.

The association between ultra-processed food intake and death varied by specific food group, with ready-to-eat meat, poultry and seafood-based products showing the strongest and most consistent associations, followed by sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages. dairy-based desserts and ultra-processed breakfast foods.

The association was less pronounced after overall diet quality was taken into account, suggesting that diet quality has a stronger impact on long-term health than consumption of ultra-processed foods, the authors note.

This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the authors point out that the classification system for ultra-processed foods does not capture the full complexity of food processing, which could lead to potential misclassifications. Additionally, participants were healthcare professionals and predominantly white, which limits the generalizability of the findings.

However, this was a large study with a long follow-up, using detailed, validated and repeated measures, and the results were similar after further analyses, providing greater confidence in the conclusions.

The researchers emphasize that not all ultra-processed food products should be universally restricted and say that oversimplification when formulating dietary recommendations should be avoided.

But they conclude: “The findings provide support for limiting consumption of certain types of ultra-processed foods for long-term health,” adding that “future studies are warranted to improve the classification of ultra-processed foods and expand our findings to be confirmed in other populations. “

In a related editorial, researchers in New Zealand point out that recommendations to avoid ultra-processed foods may also give the impression that foods that are not ultra-processed, such as red meat, can be consumed frequently.

They argue that the debate over the ultra-processed concept should not delay food policies that improve health, such as restrictions on marketing unhealthy foods to children, warning labels on food products with poor nutritional value and taxes on sugary drinks.

“Our focus must be on advocating greater global adoption of these and more ambitious interventions and strengthening safeguards to prevent policy from being influenced by multinational food companies with vested interests that do not align with public health or environmental objectives,” they conclude she.

More information:
Association of ultra-processed food consumption with all-cause and cause-specific mortality: population-based cohort study, The BMJ (2024). DOI: 10.1136/bmj-2023-078476

Provided by British Medical Journal

Quote: A 30-year US study links ultra-processed foods to a higher risk of premature death (2024, May 8), retrieved May 8, 2024 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-05-year-links-ultra- food -higher.html

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