Intake of ultra-processed foods associated with increased risk of death, study reveals

A recent study suggests that older individuals who consume more ultra-processed foods may have a higher mortality risk. The study, which followed over 500,000 individuals in the United States for approximately 30 years, found that a higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was linked to an increased risk of death from heart disease and diabetes, as well as an overall increased risk of death. However, no correlation was observed in deaths from cancer.

Highly processed meat and soft drinks were identified as subgroups of ultra-processed food most strongly associated with mortality risk. Erikka Loftfield, PhD, a researcher involved in the study, stated that the findings support a larger body of literature indicating that ultra-processed food intake adversely impacts health and longevity. However, Loftfield emphasized that more research is needed to determine the specific aspects of ultra-processed foods that pose potential health risks.

The study classified the level of processing for various food items using multiple strategies, including breaking down food frequency questionnaire data into particular food and ingredient types, incorporating expert consensus, and using the NOVA classification system. Factors such as smoking and obesity were also accounted for, but the associations between ultra-processed food consumption and increased mortality were not fully explained by these variables.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, and deli meat. The study found that people who consumed more ultra-processed foods tended to have higher body mass index and a lower Healthy Eating Index score, a measure of diet quality. However, the associations between ultra-processed food consumption and increased mortality persisted among people with better or worse diet quality and among those classified as normal weight or obese.

Loftfield will present the findings at NUTRITION 2024, the flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition. Further research is needed to determine the specific aspects of ultra-processed foods that contribute to the increased mortality risk observed in the study.

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