Eating Ultra-Processed Foods Can Lead to a Higher Risk of Death, Study Finds

Eating heavily processed foods can lead to a higher risk of death, according to a new study.

Scientists in France analyzed the diet of more than 44,000 middle-aged adults over a roughly eight-year period and found that a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed food consumption was linked to a 14% increase in the risk of mortality.

Ultra-processed foods, defined as ready-to-eat meals or snacks that usually contain additives, accounted for roughly 14% of the participants’ food intake. This percentage is actually fairly low compared to most western cultures: the diet of families in the United Kingdom reportedly consists of about 50% ultra-processed foods; this number rises to almost 58% for Americans, according to a 2016 study.

“Such foods are attractive because they tend to be cheaper, are highly palatable due to high sugar, salt, and saturated fat content, are widely available, highly marketed, ready to eat, and their use-by dates are lengthy, so they last longer,” Nita Forouhi of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge told The Guardian.

While the study says further research is needed to confirm its findings, Forouhi said it would be a detriment to public health to ignore the results.

“The case against highly processed foods is mounting up, with this study adding importantly to a growing body of evidence on the health harms of ultra-processed foods,” she told The Guardian.

According to the study, published Monday in the journal Jama Internal Medicine, consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with younger age, lower income, lower education level, living alone, higher body mass index, and a lower physical activity level. Even adjusting for outside factors like these, eating ultra-processed foods was associated with higher mortality rates.

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