Teens who eat ultra-processed foods at significantly higher risk for obesity


A new study examined the associations between dietary consumption of ultra-processed foods and obesity in a sampling of adolescents in the United States and found those who consumed such products were at a 45 percent greater risk of obesity.

Conducted by researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Brazil, the paper was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Data for this research was collected from adolescents participating in the 2011 to 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in the U.S., which covered 3,587 adolescents from 12 to 19 years of age. The aim of the research was to calculate the impact of consuming ultra-processed foods on the risk of obesity.

Participants in the study were divided into three groups according to the amount of ultra-processed foods they consumed. When researchers compared those with the highest level of consumption at 64 percent of diet by weight on average, with those with lowest level of consumption at 18.5 percent, they found that the former were 45 percent more likely to be obese, 52 percent more likely to have abdominal obesity, and 63 percent more likely to have visceral obesity (excess fat on and around the abdominal organs, including the liver and intestines), which correlates closely with the development of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and a heightened risk of death.

“There is substantial scientific evidence of the negative role of ultra-processed foods in the obesity pandemic,” Daniela Neri, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow, Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health, USP, and first author of the article said in a statement. “This is very well-established for adults. With regard to young people, we’d already found that consumption of these products is high, accounting for about two-thirds of the diet of adolescents in the U.S., but research on the association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and health outcomes, including obesity, was scarce and inconsistent.”