Ultra-processed food consumption increases CVD risk

Two large European cohort studies, published recently in the BMJ, have shown that the consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality.

Ultra-processed food refers to food and drink substances that have been through substantial industry modification with chemical preservatives, flavours, emulsifiers and other additives to improve their taste and make them last longer. They include: processed meat, mass-produced bread, cake, cereal bars, sugary fizzy drinks and chocolate, for example.

The prospective cohort study by Rico-Campà et al showed that participants in the highest quarter of ultra-processed food consumption (>4 portions a day) had a 62% higher all-cause mortality risk than those participants consuming less than two portions per day.

The other study, by Srour et al, assessed the dietary intake of 105 159 participants aged ≥18 years in France between 2009-18. Median follow-up was 5.2 years, with results showing a significant association between an absolute 10% increase in consumption of ultra-processed food and CVD risk (hazard ratio [HR] 1.12; CI 1.05–1.20; p<0.001), coronary heart disease risk (HR 1.13; CI 1.02–1.24; p=0.02) and cerebrovascular disease risk (HR 1.11; CI 1.01–1.21; p=0.02). During the study, CVD rates were 277 per 100 000 in participants consuming the highest levels of ultra-processed food, compared with 242 per 100 000 in those consuming the lowest levels.

On their results, authors of the Rico-Campà et al study said: ‘Discouraging the consumption of ultra-processed foods; targeting products, taxation, and marketing restrictions on ultra-processed products; and promotion of fresh or minimally processed foods, should be considered part of important health policy to improve global public health.’

Participants that consumed higher levels of ultra-processed food were also more likely to have increased rates of unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, with researchers attempting to account for these confounding factors.

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