London: Higher consumption of ultra-processed foods may be associated with an increased risk of developing and dying from cancer, according to a study.
Ultra-processed foods are heavily processed during their production, such as fizzy drinks, mass-produced packaged breads, many ready meals and most breakfast cereals. These foods are also generally higher in salt, fat, sugar, and contain artificial additives. Researchers from Imperial College London and colleagues produced the most comprehensive assessment to date of the association between ultra-processed foods and the risk of developing cancers.
"This study adds to the growing evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to negatively impact our health including our risk for cancer," said Eszter Vamos, lead senior author of the study, from Imperial College London.
"Given the high levels of consumption in UK adults and children, this has important implications for future health outcomes," said Vamos.
The link of ultraprocessed foods with a range of poor health outcomes including obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease is well established, the researchers said.
The study, published in the journal eClinicalMedicine, used records from UK Biobank to collect information on the diets of 200,000 middle-aged adult participants. Researchers monitored participants’ health over a 10-year period, looking at the risk of developing any cancer overall as well as the specific risk of developing 34 types of cancer. They also looked at the risk of people dying from cancer.
The study found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a greater risk of developing cancer overall, and specifically with ovarian and brain cancers.
It was also associated with an increased risk of dying from cancer, most notably with ovarian and breast cancers, the researchers said.
For every 10 per cent increase in ultra-processed food in a person's diet, there was an increased incidence of 2 per cent for cancer overall, and a 19 per cent increase for ovarian cancer specifically, they said.
Each 10 per cent increase in ultra-processed food consumption was also associated with increased mortality for cancer overall by 6 per cent, alongside a 16 per cent increase for breast cancer and a 30 per cent increase for ovarian cancer, they said.
Although the study cannot prove causation, other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in the diet could provide important health benefits.
Further research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the best public health strategies to reduce the widespread presence and harms of ultra-processed foods in our diet, the reserachers added.