processed foods and obesity

A recent study reports that eating greater amounts of processed foods is associated with obesity.


With obesity on the rise, a group of researchers from the Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, in collaboration with Tufts University, Boston, United States, and the University of Cambridge, UK, set out to investigate whether eating ‘ultra-processed’ foods had any impact on markers of obesity in adults and adolescents. The researchers reported their findings in the journal Preventive Medicine, with unsurprising results.

The study used data derived from the Brazilian Dietary Survey, consisting of over 30 000 participants over the age of 10 years. For the purposes of this study, the foods were classified in terms of food processing characteristics. The ‘ultra-processed’ foods were defined by the researchers as “formulations made by the food industry mostly from substances extracted from foods or obtained with the further processing of constituents of foods or through chemical synthesis, with little if any whole food.” These ultra-processed foods included candy, cookies, sugar-sweetened drinks, and ‘ready-to-eat’ meals.

The researchers reported that in the study population, 30% of total energy intake was in the form of ultra-processed foods. Participants who consumed the highest amount ultra-processed food had significantly higher BMIs, and were more likely to be obese or overweight, compared with participants who had the lowest intake of ultra-processed food. The researchers state that consumption of ultra-processed food likely plays a role in the obesity epidemic in Brazil.



Maria Laura da Costa Louzada, Larissa Galastri Baraldi, Euridice Martinez Steele, Ana Paula Bortoletto Martins, Daniela Silva Canella, Jean-Claude Moubarac, Renata Bertazzi Levy, Geoffrey Cannon, Ashkan Afshin, Fumiaki Imamura, Dariush Mozaffarian, Carlos Augusto Monteiro. “Consumption of ultra-processed foods and obesity in Brazilian adolescents and adults” Preventive Medicine Volume 81, December 2015, Pages 9–15






Written by Deborah Tallarigo, PhD

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