Ultra-processed foods increase obesity risk by 45% in adolescents

They divided study participants into three groups according to the amount of processed foods super consumed. When they compared those with the highest levels (average 64% of total dietary intake by weight) with those with the lowest (18.5%), they found that the former had an increased risk of obesity. 45% higher, 52% more likely. have abdominal obesity (excess fat around the waist) and most alarmingly there is a 63% chance of visceral obesity (excess fat on and around the abdominal organs, including the liver and intestines), which is strongly correlated with development of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia (high cholesterol) and an increased risk of death.

The full results of the study, supported by FAPESP, are reported in a peer-reviewed journal article Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“There is substantial scientific evidence for a negative role of viral processed foods in the obesity epidemic. This is well-founded for adults. For young people, we found this to be the case. that the consumption of these products is very high, accounts for Daniela Neri, the first author of the paper, who told Agncia FAPESP, about two-thirds of the diets of adolescents in the US. . Neri affiliated with the Center The Nutrition and Health Epidemiology Study (NUPENS) at the School of Public Health (FSP-USP).


Led by Professor Carlos Augusto Monteiro, the NUPENS team was among the first to link changes in the food processing industry to the obesity epidemic, which began in the United States in the 1980s and has since spread. most other countries. Based on this hypothesis, the team developed a food classification system called NOVA, based on the extent to which the product is industrially processed. The system informed the recommendations in the 2014 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population, which emphasized the benefits of a diet based on raw or minimally processed foods and excluded Get rid of processed foods, from soft drinks, pretzels and instant noodles to packaged snacks and even a seemingly innocent whole-wheat bread.

“In general, ultra-processed foods and beverages contain chemical additives designed to make the product more visually appealing, such as colourings, fragrances, emulsifiers, etc. Many ultra-quick processed foods are high in energy density and contain a lot of sugar and fat, all of which contribute directly to weight gain,” says Neri. “But even low-calorie products like diet drinks can promote the development of obesity in ways that go beyond the nutritional profile, such as by intervening on satiety signaling or modulation of the gut microbiota.”


The recently published study used data collected using a method called 24-hour food recall, in which subjects were asked to report all consumed foods and beverages. consumed in the previous 24 hours, detailing the quantity, time and location. Most of the participants included in the analysis (86%) were interviewed twice on this topic, with a two-week interval between interviews.

Adolescents were divided into three groups based on this information: those on the ultra-processed foods diet accounted for 29% of their weight, 29% to 47%, and 48% or more.

The researchers also used anthropometric data, such as weight, height and waist circumference. These measures were assessed against growth charts for age and sex approved by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“Total obesity risk is estimated based on body mass index, or BMI, which is weight [in kilos] divided by the square of the height [in meters]Neri said. “We used waist circumference to assess abdominal obesity and sagittal abdominal diameter, a lesser known parameter, as a proxy for visceral obesity.”

Sagittal abdominal girthometry, she explains, is an indirect and non-invasive method for estimating visceral fat: “The subject lies down and we use a caliper or gauge to measure the distance between the tops of the body. groove and navel area. Softer subcutaneous fat is poured to the sides and visceral fat, stiffer, remains in place.This method avoids measurement errors that can occur due to skin folds in the lumbar region. .”

All data analyzed in the study came from NHANES surveys conducted between 2011 and 2016. According to Neri, these findings can be extrapolated to Brazilian adolescents, who also exposed to ultra-processed foods from an early age, although to a lesser extent than their American counterparts.

“Brazil does not conduct surveys on adolescent nutrition, but also collects anthropometric data. National surveys of this type are expensive and require ongoing funding,” Neri said. We have a few similar surveys, but they’re simpler.”

One example is Vigitel, an annual national survey conducted by the Ministry of Health to monitor chronic disease risk and protection, involving telephone interviews with people over the age of eight. The latest data from this survey, published in January 2022 by the Institute for Health Policy Research (IEPS), show that obesity rates among adults in Brazil nearly doubled from 11 .8% in 2006 to 21.5% in 2020.

The Consumer Spending Survey (POF) conducted by IBGE, the national bureau of statistics, collects data on the eating habits of teenagers and adults, but not on their health.

According to the latest POF, conducted in 2017-18, more than half (53.4%) of the average Brazilian’s daily calories came from fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits, meat and dairy or whole foods. minimal processing such as grains and flour. , 15.6% from processed ingredients such as sugar, salt, and olive oil, 11.3% from processed foods such as cheeses, artisan breads and preserved fruits and vegetables, and 19.7 % from ultra-processed foods. In the case of teenagers, survey data shows that ultra-processed foods account for 27% of calories, and for those over 60, it’s 15.1%.


In another study conducted by NUPENS, researchers compared dietary data for Brazilian adolescents from POF 2017-18 with similar data from Argentina, Australia, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, United Kingdom and America.

Ultra-processed foods range from 19% of energy intake in Colombia and 27% in Brazil to 68% in the UK and 66% in the US. Despite the variation in proportions, the impact of ultra-processed foods on diet quality was similar in all the groups analyzed, according to Neri, Neri said.

“In this study, subjects were divided into groups according to their consumption of ultra-processed foods. We observed a decline in the quality of their diets as the proportion of ultra-processed foods increased. increase, increase energy density and sugar content, and decrease fiber content.The negative effects are very similar in all countries regardless of the proportion of ultra-processed foods, region or culture. turned,” she said.

Although rice and beans are still the staple diet of most Brazilians, a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Health in 2019 found that the consumption of ultra-processed foods is common even among those who have not. old enough. More than 80% of children in this group regularly consume these products.

“Children who consume these products are less likely to consume fresh produce or minimally processed foods at a time when dietary habits are being formed,” says Neri. “By being exposed to these allergenic foods, children and adolescents are being programmed for future health problems. That’s extremely worrying.”

Families cannot be solely responsible for controlling this exposure, which requires reform of the entire current dietary system. “We must go beyond consumer education by taking public policy actions on multiple fronts,” Neri said. “There could be different strategies, such as placing restrictions on advertising, especially when it’s aimed at children, and increasing taxes on processed superfood products that clearly state more on the label to help consumers make better choices.”

Source: Eurekalert

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