RESULTS of an observational study suggest a higher consumption of ultra-processed foods may be linked to an increased risk of cancer and cancer-related death.
Researchers from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, UK, have conducted the most comprehensive investigation to date into the association between ultra-processed foods and the risk of cancer development. Ultra-processed food, defined as items which are heavily processed during production, encompass most ready meals, breakfast cereals, mass-produced bread, and carbonated drinks. Often inexpensive, convenient, and widely marketed, these foods are linked with a range of poor health outcomes, including Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
Previous research conducted by the team identified the UK as having the highest consumption levels of ultra-processed foods in Europe. Kiara Chang, first author of the study, highlights: ‘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.’
This study utilised 200,000 UK BioBank records to monitor middle-aged participants’ health over 10 years. This was linked to their risk of developing 34 types of cancer and the risk of cancer-related death. Results suggested each 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption was associated with a 2% increase in cancer risk, with a 19% increase for ovarian cancer specifically. When considering cancer-related death these figures rose to 6% and 30%, respectively. After adjusting the results for a range of socio-economic, behavioural, and dietary factors, these associations remained. Eszter Vamos, Imperial College’s School of Public Health, said: ‘This study adds to the growing evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to negatively impact our health, including our risk for cancer. Given the high levels of consumption in UK adults and children, this has important implications for future health outcomes.’
Vamos also suggested that although the study cannot prove causation due to its observational nature, ‘other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diet could provide important health benefits,’ and that further research is needed to confirm these findings.
In summary, higher consumption of ultra-processed foods may be linked to an increased risk of cancer and cancer-related death. Chang suggested: ‘We need clear front of pack warning labels for ultra-processed foods to aid consumer choices’ to combat these associations.