Resume: High consumption of ultra-processed foods, including soft drinks, French fries, and some white bread products, was associated with an increased risk of developing and dying from certain types of cancer, including brain cancer.
Font: Imperial College London
Higher consumption of ultra-processed foods may be linked to an increased risk of developing and dying from cancer, an observational study led by Imperial College London suggests.
Researchers at the Imperial School of Public Health have produced the most comprehensive assessment to date of the association between ultra-processed foods and the risk of developing cancer.
Ultra-processed foods are food items that have been heavily processed during their production, such as soft drinks, mass-produced packaged breads, many convenience foods, and most breakfast cereals.
Ultra-processed foods are usually relatively cheap, convenient, and heavily marketed, often as healthy options. But these foods are also generally higher in salt, fat, sugar, and contain artificial additives. It is now well documented that they are linked to a variety of health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
The first study of its kind in the UK used UK Biobank records to collect information on the diets of 200,000 middle-aged adult participants. The researchers monitored the participants’ health over a 10-year period, looking at their risk of developing any type of cancer in general, as well as the specific risk of developing 34 types of cancer. They also looked at the risk of people dying from cancer.
The study found that a higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of developing cancer in general, and specifically ovarian and brain cancer. It was also associated with an increased risk of dying from cancer, especially ovarian and breast cancer.
For every 10% increase in ultra-processed foods in a person’s diet, there was a 2% increase in incidence for cancer overall, and a 19% increase for ovarian cancer specifically.
Each 10 percent increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods was also associated with an increase in overall cancer mortality by 6 percent, along with a 16 percent increase for breast cancer and an increase in 30 percent for ovarian cancer.
These links held after adjusting for a variety of socioeconomic, behavioral, and dietary factors, including smoking, physical activity, and body mass index (BMI).
The Imperial team conducted the study, which is published in eClinicalMedicinein collaboration with researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the University of São Paulo and the NOVA University of Lisbon.
Previous research by the team has reported on consumption levels of ultra-processed foods in the UK, which are the highest in Europe for both adults and children. The team also found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes in UK adults, and higher weight gain in UK children stretching from childhood to adulthood.
Lead study author Dr Eszter Vamos, from Imperial College London School of Public Health, said: “This study adds to mounting evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to have a negative impact on our health, including our risk of cancer. Given the high levels of consumption in adults and children in the UK, this has important implications for future health outcomes.
“Although our study cannot prove cause and effect, other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diets could provide important health benefits. More research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the best public health strategies to reduce the pervasive presence and harm of ultra-processed foods in our diets.”
Dr Kiara Chang, first author of the study, from Imperial College London School of Public Health, said: “The average person in the UK consumes more than half of their daily energy intake from ultra-processed foods.
“This is exceptionally high and concerning, as ultra-processed foods are produced with industrially derived ingredients and often use food additives to adjust color, flavor, consistency, texture, or extend shelf life.
“Our bodies may not react the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to fresh, nutritious, minimally processed foods. However, ultra-processed foods are ubiquitous and heavily marketed with cheap prices and attractive packaging to promote consumption. This shows that our food environment needs urgent reform to protect the population from ultra-processed foods.”
The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have previously recommended restricting ultra-processed foods as part of a healthy and sustainable diet.
There are ongoing efforts to reduce consumption of ultra-processed foods around the world, with countries like Brazil, France, and Canada updating their national dietary guidelines with recommendations to limit such foods. Brazil has also banned the sale of ultra-processed foods in schools. There are currently no similar measures in place to tackle ultra-processed foods in the UK.
Dr. Chang added: “We need clear front-of-package warning labels for ultra-processed foods to help consumers make choices, and our sugar tax should be extended to cover ultra-processed soft drinks, fruit-based beverages, and soft drinks. milk-based, as well as other ultra-processed products.
“Low-income households are particularly vulnerable to these cheap and unhealthy ultra-processed foods. Minimally processed and freshly prepared meals should be subsidized to ensure everyone has access to healthy, nutritious, and affordable options.”
The researchers note that their study is observational, so it does not show a causal link between ultra-processed foods and cancer due to the observational nature of the research. More work is needed in this area to establish a causal link.
About this diet and brain cancer research news
Author: press office
Font: Imperial College London
Contact: Press Office – Imperial College London
Picture: The image is in the public domain.
original research: Findings will appear on eClinicalMedicine
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