Processed Foods Linked to Early Death, Study Finds

Alicia Farmer
February 14, 2019

According to a French study, we face a 14 percent higher risk of early death with each 10 percent increase in the amount of ultra-processed food we take in.

The study included more than 44,000 adults, 45 and older, in France who were followed for two years. The category includes ready-to-eat or -heat meals, snacks and desserts such as instant noodles, packaged soups, hot dogs, fish fingers, chicken nuggets, soft drinks, chips, candy, sugary breakfast cereals and much, much more.

Ultra-processed foods are manufactured in industries and are often teeming with many additives. But the researchers hypothesized that these foods could contribute to a shorter life span in a number of ways - for example, by increasing a person's risk of heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Sometimes even at the stage of packaging, some chemicals may leech into the food making it unfit to consume. More than half the United Kingdom diet is ultra-processed food, the Guardian revealed previous year. 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 nearly 58% for Americans, according to a 2016 study. "Further prospective studies are needed to confirm these findings and to disentangle the various mechanisms by which ultraprocessed foods may affect health". It was also observed that ultra-processed food consumption was associated with people of younger age, lower income, lower educational level, living alone, higher BMI and lower physical activity level.

"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".

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Other scientists said it was hard to draw firm conclusions from the study, partly because the "ultra-processed" foods category was so large, ranging from packet soups to chocolate bars.

"The association between proportion of ultra-processed foods and overall mortality was the main outcome", the report reads.

"To put things into perspective, although the risk of dying over the seven-year period of investigation was about 15% higher among those consuming more of these foods, the background risk across the whole group was low".

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