Scientists: “Put warning labels on ultra-processed foods”

Published 6 March 2024
- By Editorial Staff
Ultra-processed foods are regarded as having a significant negative impact on health, both physical and mental.

The risk of dying from cardiovascular disease increases by 50 per cent if you eat a lot of ultra-processed foods, according to an umbrella study by researchers in the US, Australia and Ireland. The risk of mental disorders could also increase by about 50 per cent with high consumption.

The researchers believe that warning labels should be added to this type of food.

Ultra-processed food means that it has undergone extensive processing, but also that several chemical additives have been added. “Regular” processed food is often closer to its original form and contains fewer additives, while ultra-processed food has gone through more steps in the factory and is mainly of industrial origin, i.e. unnatural. Today, foods are classified according to how they have been processed, using the NOVA system developed by health researchers.

This type of food is often high in sugar, salt and fat, but low in vitamins and fibre. In the US and Canada, for example, more than half the food consumed is ultra-processed.

Biggest study ever

Now, researchers from the University of Sydney, Dublin City University and Johns Hopkins University have conducted 45 meta-analyses of 14 major studies published in the last three years on ultra-processed foods. The umbrella study covers nearly 10 million people and is said to be the largest study on the subject to date.

The study, published in The BMJ medical journal, shows that high consumption of ultra-processed foods increased the risk of anxiety and common mental disorders by 48-53 per cent. The risk of developing diabetes also increased by 12 per cent. Meanwhile, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease increased by 50 per cent.

Other health problems associated with high consumption included sleep deprivation, obesity, cancer and asthma. The risk of dying from any cause also increased by 21%.

Calls for UN regulations

The researchers stress that more research is needed to fully understand the risks of ultra-processed foods. However, they suggest that a number of measures should be taken to reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods around the world. For example, the UN should be involved in developing regulations similar to those for tobacco.

They also suggest that labelling of these foods should be introduced, similar to what has been done in Chile, where foods carry warnings if they are high in sugar, saturated fat or calories.

They also suggest banning the sale of such foods near schools and hospitals.

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