An investigation published in the journal «American Journal of Preventive Medicine» has developed a model to relate the impact of ultra-processed food consumption to premature and preventable deaths in Brazil in 2019. According to the research, increased intake of these foods was associated with more than 10% of premature deaths in Brazil in 2019, which represents about 57,000 deaths.
Ultra-processed, ready-to-eat or heated industrial formulas made with ingredients extracted from food or synthesized in laboratories, have been gradually replacing traditional foods and meals made with fresh and minimally processed ingredients in many countries.
Examples are pre-packaged soups and sauces, frozen pizza, prepared meals, hot dogs, sausages, soft drinks, ice cream and store-bought cookies, cakes, candies and donuts.
It must be said that Brazilians consume much less of these products than high-income countries.
“Previous studies have estimated the health and economic burden of critical ingredients, such as sodium, sugar, and trans fats, and of specific foods or beverages, such as sugar-sweetened beverages,” explains lead researcher Eduardo AF Nilson of the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health, of the University of Sao Pauloand of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil.
“To our knowledge, no study to date has estimated the potential impact of ultraprocessed foods on premature deaths. Knowing the deaths attributable to the consumption of these foods and modeling how changes in dietary patterns can support more effective food policies could prevent disease and premature death, “he says.
“The results of this study reflect the negative effect of ultra-processed foods on health, specifically on mortality, something that has already been observed in other studies in different countries,” Carmen Romero Ferreiro, from the Institute of Research University Hospital October 12.
The novelty of this study is that it analyzes premature deaths, defined as deaths that occur between 30 and 70 years of age, attributable to the consumption of ultra-processed foods
In all age groups and gender strata, the consumption of ultra-processed foods ranged from 13% to 21% of total food intake in Brazil during the period studied.
A total of 541,260 adults aged 30 to 69 years died prematurely in 2019, of which 261,061 were from preventable and non-communicable diseases. The model found that approximately 57,000 deaths that year could be attributed to FUP use, corresponding to 10.5% of all premature deaths and 21.8% of all deaths from preventable noncommunicable diseases in adults aged 30 to 69. years. The researchers suggested that in high-income countries such as the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, where these foods account for more than half of total caloric intake, the estimated impact would be even greater.
For Romero Ferreiro“the novelty of this study is that it analyzes premature deaths, defined as deaths that occur between 30 and 70 years of age, attributable to the consumption of ultra-processed foods, and how changes in dietary patterns can reduce that number of deaths.”
Its implications are clear and they are the ones that have been repeated, he adds: “reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods and implement a diet that is based on unprocessed or minimally processed foods. These changes in nutritional habits have a positive impact on health and can prevent many premature deaths in the adult population.
Nilson points out that these foods have replaced the consumption of traditional whole foods over time, like rice and beansin Brazil.
The promotion of healthier food options may require multiple interventions and public health measures, such as fiscal and regulatory policies,
Reducing consumption of ultra-processed foods and promoting healthier food choices may require multiple public health interventions and measures, such as fiscal and regulatory policies, changing food environments, strengthening implementation of food-based dietary guidelines and improving consumer knowledge, attitudes and behaviour.
According to his opinion, reducing its consumption between 10% and 50% could prevent approximately between 5,900 and 29,300 premature deaths per year in Brazil.
The consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with many disease outcomes, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers and other diseases, and represents a significant cause of preventable and premature deaths among Brazilian adults,” says Nilson. «Even reducing its consumption to levels of a decade ago would reduce the associated premature deaths by 21%. Policies are urgently needed to discourage its consumption”