What are Ultra-Processed Foods?
Ultra-processed foods, such as fizzy drinks, mass-produced packaged breads, ready meals, and most breakfast cereals, are food items that undergo heavy processing during their production.
They are often relatively cheap, convenient, and heavily marketed, often as healthy options. However, these foods are typically high in salt, fat, sugar, and artificial additives.
It’s well-documented that they are associated with various poor health outcomes including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
A team of scientists from Imperial College London conducted a comprehensive assessment of the association between ultra-processed foods and the risk of developing cancers.
Using UK Biobank records, the team collected dietary information on 200,000 middle-aged adults.
They monitored the participants’ health over a ten-year period, examining the risk of developing any cancer overall, as well as the specific risk of developing 34 types of cancer.
They also assessed the risk of dying from cancer.
The study found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a greater risk of developing cancer overall, particularly ovarian and brain cancers.
Higher intake of these foods also increased the risk of dying from cancer, most notably ovarian and breast cancers.
For every 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food in a person’s diet, there was a 2 percent increase in the overall incidence of cancer and a 19 percent increase for ovarian cancer specifically.
A 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption was also linked to a 6% increase in overall cancer mortality, a 16% increase for breast cancer, and a 30% increase for ovarian cancer.
Higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was also associated with a greater risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes in UK adults, as well as greater weight gain in UK children extending from childhood to young adulthood.
Implications and Future Research
These findings add to the growing evidence that ultra-processed foods negatively impact health, including increasing the risk of cancer.
The researchers emphasized the need for further research to confirm these findings and to understand the most effective public health strategies for reducing the widespread presence and harms of ultra-processed foods in our diets.
The study was conducted by Dr. Eszter Vamos and others and was published in eClinicalMedicine.
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