Ultraprocessed foods, which are made from food constituents but without any identifiable intact food in them, contain coloring chemicals, stabilizing substances, flavoring agents, and other additives that imitate or intensify the sensory qualities of foods or culinary preparations. They are also heavily loaded with free sugars, fats, salt, synthetic antioxidants, preservatives, and a variety of other chemical additives. Examples of ultraprocessed foods include sugar-sweetened beverages, sugared milk, fruit drinks, fast foods (eg, sausages, burgers), cookies, candy sweets, and savory packaged snacks.
The reason for their expanded consumption is that ultraprocessed foods are tasty, as well as convenient and considerably inexpensive for the industry. They tend to have a long shelf life and allow for huge profit margins. Unfortunately, they are very rich in energy and in potentially unhealthy elements. Moreover, they replace healthy, nutritious, fresh foods, thus depriving consumers of the benefits derived from a high-quality food pattern mainly based in nonprocessed or minimally processed foods, such as the traditional Mediterranean diet.
From a geographic perspective, at the country level, higher consumption of ultraprocessed foods is strongly associated with higher rates of obesity.
has been preceded by global increases in the production and consumption of ultraprocessed foods, with estimates of a 3-fold increase in their consumption in some Western countries between 1990 and 2010.
Many voices are arguing for the need to address structural (social, economic, cultural, and psychological) determinants of the current undeterred expansion of the obesity pandemic, which is compromising life expectancy and can, eventually, compromise the sustainability of most health systems worldwide. In this regard, ultraprocessed foods merit consideration. Beyond geographic or temporal analyses (ecological comparisons) and mechanistic arguments, long-term, prospective, and well-controlled epidemiologic studies at the individual level have shown a strong obesogenic effect of ultraprocessed foods.
show in an elegant prospective cohort conducted in a representative sample of Spain that higher consumption of ultraprocessed foods was independently associated with higher all-cause mortality after nearly 8 years of follow-up. When ultraprocessed foods provided more than 1 of every 3 calories, the relative increase in total mortality was 44% compared with the group in which ultraprocessed foods provided only 1 of every 7 calories.
The results of 3 very recent and well-conducted prospective cohort studies concur with these findings. These 3 large studies were conducted in the United States
These consistent findings preserve the temporal sequence and show dose-response patterns and strength in the association with such an important outcome as all-cause mortality. Together, they raise issues pertaining to individual health, public health, and public health care policy. For example, the latter may involve education regarding the rise in the consumption of ultraprocessed foods and these observed associations. Blanco-Rojo et al