Taxation and marketing restrictions have been proposed to curb consumption of ultra-processed food, following the results of two new studies.
A Spanish study showed higher death rates in those who ate at least four ultra-processed foods a day, while French researchers revealed these foods were associated with higher cardiovascular disease (CVD) rates.
No conclusive causal effect was observed in the studies, but the results raise further concern about the health outcomes of high processed food consumption.
Ultra-processed foods are items containing substantial factory processing. They include pizza, fizzy drinks, cake, ice cream, chicken nuggets and mass-produced bread as well as processed meat, including hamburgers, sausages. These foods usually contain at least five ingredients, including sweeteners, colour enhancers and preservatives.
Researchers from University of Navarra studied 19,899 people over 10 years, 335 of whom died during the research. For every 10 deaths involving people who consumed low amounts of ultra-processed food, there were 16 deaths among people who ate at least four ultra-processed foods a day.
In the French study, a team from University of Paris tracked 105,159 participants over a five-year period, assessing their diet twice every 12 months. According to the findings, there were 242 per 100,000 people every year who had CVD but ate relatively low amounts of ultra-processed food. In comparison, there were 277 per 100,000 people consuming the most amounts of ultra-processed food who developed CVD.
Speaking to BBC News, University of Paris researcher, Dr Mathilde Touvier, said: “The rapid and worldwide increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods, to the detriment of less processed foods, may drive a substantial burden of cardiovascular diseases in the next decades.”
On the back of the research, Professor Bes-Rastrollo, from the University of Navarra, said: “Measures like taxation and marketing restrictions on ultra-processed foods to discourage consumption [should be considered]. At the same time, promotion of fresh and minimally processed food is a requirement.”
Research has also revealed that people who consumed higher amounts of ultra-processed food were also likelier to have bad habits, including smoking. Ultra-processed foods have also been linked to an increased cancer risk.
The studies were published in the British Medical Journal.