Processed food is at an all-time high

Nutrition news – here’s an interesting story to wet your appetite. One that I wish we could debunk as being fake news, but unfortunately the truth lies within the data. In early February 2018, the Guardian online reported the rise in processed food consumption, with a degree of hard truths – (the original article can be found here www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/02/ultra-processed-products-now-half-of-all-uk-family-food-purchases). The main source of evidence for the Guardian’s article is found within the recently published study into the food purchasing trends of 19 European countries (Monterio et al., 2017). In this study, the authors declare that UK families are the leaders in buying processed foods, amounting to 50.7% of the diet versus their European neighbours between 10.2 – 46.2%.

What is NOVA?

NOVA is a food classification - it groups food based on the extent and purpose of food processing, rather than in terms of nutrients. One such food group identified is those ‘ultra-processed’ food and drinks that are made predominantly or entirely of substances derived from foods, together with additives. The creation of these foods is to produce food that is highly palatable, durable, convenient and ready-to-go. Such foods as soft drinks, packaged snacks, confectionary, mass-produced packaged breads, cakes and biscuits. These foods are quickly becoming a firm favourite in every household in the UK.

Processed Foods

The Factsbased on the Moteiro et al., 2017 study.

Research methodology & results - 19 European countries with either estimates or within an interval of up to 5 years, for household availability of ultra-processed foods and the prevalence of obesity among adults.

Country

Household Ultra-processed food availability (%)

Prevalence to obesity (%)

Austria

35.0

12.9

Belgium

46.6

12.7

Croatia

17.9

20.3

Cyprus

20.1

12.3

Finland

40.9

22.4

France

14.2

7.1

Germany

46.2

20.8

Greece

13.7

13.4

Hungary

21.1

21.1

Ireland

45.9

18.0

Italy

13.4

8.2

Latvia

32.9

16.3

Lithuania

26.4

16.0

Malta

27.6

19.8

Norway

36.9

16.4

Portugal

10.2

15.2

Slovakia

20.2

14.3

Spain

20.3

13.7

UK

50.7

24.5

 

Obesity graph

 

What does this mean?

Of course, there are many potential factors that contribute to the relationship between the availability and consumption of ultra-processed foods and the prevalence to obesity, but this study highlights that as the percentage points of ultra-processed food availability increases, as does the prevalence of obesity. In fact, one percentage point increase in availability, the prevalence of obesity increases by 0.25%. More importantly, the growing consumption of ultra-processed food is associated with an increased risk of diet-related non-communicable disease (Monteiro et al., 2018).

What should you do?

Clearly public policies need to change, but in the absence of a speedy reaction, as individuals we should try and limit our ‘ultra-processed’ food consumption and more importantly swap in more unprocessed foods where possible.

From Fake News to Fasting, check out our article on Fasting

 

Reference

Monteiro, C. A., Moubarac, J. C., Levy, R. B., Canella, D. S., da Costa Louzada, M. L., & Cannon, G. (2018). Household availability of ultra-processed foods and obesity in nineteen European countries. Public health nutrition21(1), 18-26.