Eating highly processed foods can cause early death, study finds

Among utra-processed foods, meat, poultry and seafood-based ready-to-eat products showed the strongest links to death.
Frozen aisle supermarket
Posted at 12:07 PM, May 09, 2024

Higher consumption of ultra-processed foods can lead to early death, according to a new study.

This refers to products like ready-to-eat meat, frozen meals, prepackaged soups, sugary drinks and highly processed breakfast foods.

The study, published in the Boston Medical Journal, tracked the long-term health of about 75,000 female nurses across 11 states between 1984 and 2018, and in a follow-up study, evaluated nearly 40,000 men across 50 states between 1986 and 2018. All participants had no known history of cancer, cardiovascular diseases or diabetes when the study began.

Every two years, participants completed a medical and lifestyle questionnaire. A food-related questionnaire was completed every four years.

During a median of 34 and 31 years follow-up, the deaths of 30,188 women and 18,005 men, respectively, were documented.

The results found that participants in the highest quarter of ultra-processed food consumption had a 4% higher overall mortality rate, and a 9% higher mortality rate for causes other than cancer or cardiovascular diseases.

Meat, poultry and seafood-based ready-to-eat products showed the strongest associations with mortality outcomes, the study found.

Sugary or artificially sweetened beverages, dairy-based desserts and ultra-processed breakfast food were also linked to higher death rates.

On the other hand, nuts and dark chocolate, studied under the “packaged sweet snacks and desserts” subgroup, were associated with lower death rates.

While most studies have found links to cardiovascular disease and cancer, researchers in this study also found correlations between ultra-processed foods and neurodegenerative mortality.

Evidence suggested that ultra-processed foods can lead to a higher risk of central nervous system demyelination —which is a precursor of multiple sclerosis — lower cognitive function and dementia, said the study.

Findings were similar among men and women.

Potato chips at the store.

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