Current Obesity Reports

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 420–431 | Cite as

Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health—Processing or Nutrient Content?

  • Jennifer M. Poti
  • Bianca Braga
  • Bo Qin
The Obesity Epidemic: Causes and Consequences (A Cameron and K Backholer, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on The Obesity Epidemic: Causes and Consequences


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.

Recent Findings

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.


Food processing Ultra-processed food Processed food Overweight Obesity 



Body mass index


Food frequency questionnaire


High-density lipoprotein


Low-density lipoprotein


Sugar-sweetened beverage


Funding Information

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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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Nutrition, Carolina Population CenterUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Department of International StudiesUniversidad Torcuato Di TellaBuenos AiresArgentina
  4. 4.Population Science, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New JerseyNew BrunswickUSA

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