High ultra-processed food consumption tied to increased death risk

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Study shows high ultra-processed food intake increases mortality risk.

NEW YORK, May 11: A recent study published in The BMJ suggests that individuals who consume a high amount of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) may face a higher risk of early mortality compared to those with lower consumption levels. However, specific types of processed foods were found to increase this risk more than others.

The study, led by Dr. Mingyang Song, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, revealed that processed meats, artificially or sugar-sweetened drinks, dairy-based desserts, and sugary breakfast foods were particularly associated with a higher likelihood of early death from any cause. Among these, processed meat posed the highest risk.

Dr. Song highlighted that while the link between UPFs and early mortality was evident, it varied in strength among different categories of ultra-processed foods. The study emphasized that maintaining a healthy overall diet could mitigate some of the risks associated with consuming UPFs, but minimizing their intake could still benefit long-term health outcomes.

The research, conducted by multiple universities, analyzed data from over 100,000 US healthcare professionals who provided information on their health, diet, and lifestyle habits over more than three decades. The participants’ adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, a measure of dietary quality, was also taken into account.

Results indicated that individuals consuming the highest amount of UPFs faced a 4% higher risk of dying from any cause and a 9% increased risk of dying from causes other than cancer or cardiovascular diseases compared to those consuming the least. These causes included respiratory or neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

While UPFs typically contain additives and undergo industrialized processing, leading to concerns about their impact on health, the study acknowledged that proving causation remains challenging. However, associations between UPFs and various health issues, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, have been observed in previous research.

To better understand these associations, researchers categorized UPFs into nine groups, ranging from ultra-processed breads and breakfast foods to dairy-based desserts. This classification aimed to assess whether certain food groups within the UPF category had a more significant impact on health outcomes.

Despite the study’s large sample size, Gunter Kuhnle, a professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Reading, cautioned about the reliability of the results due to limitations in the questionnaires used to determine UPF intake.

The authors stressed the need for future studies to refine the classification of UPFs and validate the findings across diverse populations, underscoring the ongoing debate surrounding the health implications of processed foods.

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