Health Advice



30-year study: Ultraprocessed foods increase risk of death by any cause

Hunter Boyce, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Health & Fitness

Low in nutrition and high in calories, ultraprocessed foods account for 57% of adult diets in the United States. A study published in the BMJ on Wednesday associated these snacks, drinks and ready meals with an increased risk of death by any cause.

“Higher ultra-processed food intake was associated with slightly increased all cause mortality,” according to the study. “The mortality associations for ultra-processed food consumption were more modest than those for dietary quality and varied across ultra-processed food subgroups, with meat/poultry/seafood based ready-to-eat products generally showing the strongest and most consistent associations with mortality.”

To determine the health impact of ultraprocessed foods, the researchers analyzed data from more than 100,000 U.S. participants — female registered nurses from 11 states in the Nurses’ Health Study and male health professionals from all 50 states in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. From 1986 to 2018, the individuals informed reported on their health and lifestyle habits every two years.

Those who ate the most ultraprocessed foods were at a 4% higher risk of death by any cause. But only particular subgroups of these foods accounted for most of the risk association.

“Cereals, whole grain breads, for example, they are also considered ultraprocessed food, but they contain various beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals,” Dr. Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard professor emerita of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, told CNN.


“On the other hand, I do think people should try to avoid or limit the consumption of certain ultraprocessed foods, such as processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and also potentially artificially sweetened beverages.”

The study concluded eating these foods had a “modest” association with a higher risk of death, and more research is needed.

“The findings provide support for limiting consumption of certain types of ultra-processed food for long term health,” according to the study. “Future studies are warranted to improve the classification of ultra-processed foods and confirm our findings in other populations.”

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