Ultra-processed foods linked to premature deaths, says a Brazilian study.
In many nations, traditional foods and meals made from fresh and minimally processed ingredients have gradually been replaced by ultra-processed foods (UPFs), industrial formulations that are ready to eat or heat and are made with ingredients that have been extracted from foods or created in laboratories.
More than 10% of all-cause premature, avoidable deaths in Brazil in 2019 were linked to increased intake of these foods, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Brazilians, however, consume much less of these goods than people in wealthy nations.
Lead researcher Eduardo A.F. Nilson, ScD, Center for Epidemiological Research trition and Health, University of São Paulo, and Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil, noted that prior modelling studies have calculated the health and financial impact of essential constituents, such as sodium, sugar, and trans fats, as well as specific foods or drinks, such as sugar-sweetened beverages. We are aware of no study that has calculated the possible effect of UPFs on early deaths.
By being aware of the fatalities linked to the use of certain items and simulating how dietary adjustments can assist more successful food policy, disease and early death may be avoided. To determine the baseline intakes of UPFs by sex and age group, Dr. Nilson and his associates used data from nationally representative dietary surveys as a basis for their modelling. Using data from 2019, statistical studies were performed to determine the percentage of overall deaths that were related to the use of UPFs and the effects of reducing UPF intake by 10%, 20%, and 50% within those age categories.
UPF consumption in Brazil throughout the study period ranged from 13% to 21% of total dietary intake across all age categories and sex divisions. In 2019, there were 541,260 premature deaths among individuals aged 30 to 69, of which 261,061 were caused by preventable, non-communicable diseases. The model discovered that almost 57,000 fatalities that year, or 10.5% of all premature deaths and 21.8% of all deaths from avoidable noncommunicable diseases in individuals aged 30 to 69, could be linked to the use of UPFs.
The researchers hypothesised that the projected impact would be considerably greater in high-income nations like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, where UPFs make up more than half of total calorie intake.
Dr. Nilson observed that over time in Brazil, the consumption of traditional whole foods like rice and beans gradually declined. It may take a variety of interventions and public health measures, such as fiscal and regulatory policies, changing the food environment, stepping up the implementation of food-based dietary guidelines, and enhancing consumer knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour, to reduce the consumption of UPFs and promote healthier food options.
In Brazil, reducing UPF consumption by 10% to 50% might potentially avoid 5,900 to 29,300 early deaths annually.
According to Dr. Nilson, consumption of UPFs is a significant contributor to avoidable and untimely deaths among Brazilian adults and is linked to numerous disease outcomes, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain malignancies, and other illnesses.
Simply bringing down UPF consumption to where it was a decade ago would result in a 21% drop in related early deaths. There is a critical need for policies to discourage the consumption of UPFs. The development of more effective food policy options to support healthier food environments can be aided by having a tool to estimate the deaths attributable to the consumption of UPFs. This tool can also assist countries in estimating the burden of dietary changes related to industrial food processing.