Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health—Processing or Nutrient Content?
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Purpose of Review
The aim of this narrative review was to summarize and critique recent evidence evaluating the association between ultra-processed food intake and obesity.
Four of five studies found that higher purchases or consumption of ultra-processed food was associated with overweight/obesity. Additional studies reported relationships between ultra-processed food intake and higher fasting glucose, metabolic syndrome, increases in total and LDL cholesterol, and risk of hypertension. It remains unclear whether associations can be attributed to processing itself or the nutrient content of ultra-processed foods. Only three of nine studies used a prospective design, and the potential for residual confounding was high.
Recent research provides fairly consistent support for the association of ultra-processed food intake with obesity and related cardiometabolic outcomes. There is a clear need for further studies, particularly those using longitudinal designs and with sufficient control for confounding, to potentially confirm these findings in different populations and to determine whether ultra-processed food consumption is associated with obesity independent of nutrient content.
KeywordsFood processing Ultra-processed food Processed food Overweight Obesity
Body mass index
Food frequency questionnaire
This work was supported by the NIH (R01DK098072, DK56350) and the Carolina Population Center and its NIH Center grant (P2C HD050924) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
Jennifer M. Poti, Bianca Braga, and Bo Qin declare they have no conflict of interest.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.
Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance
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