New Study Finds Ultra-Processed Foods May Increase Cancer Risk

A study conducted by Imperial College London and published in The Lancet journal eClinicalMedicine presents new evidence suggesting ultra-processed foods may increase the risk of developing various forms of cancer.

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Eszter Vamos, PhD, lead senior author for the observational study said that the results add to growing evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to negatively impact our health. The researchers analyzed UK Biobank records of nearly 200,000 middle-aged adults over a 10-year period, looking at diet as well as risk of developing 34 types of cancer. The scientists found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was linked to a greater risk of cancer, specifically ovarian and brain cancers, as well as increased mortality from ovarian and breast cancers.

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The researchers found that a 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food consumption was associated with a 2 percent increase in overall cancer incidence, and a 19 percent increase in ovarian cancer. With a 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food, mortality from cancer overall rose 6 percent.  The study adjusted for socioeconomic, behavioral, and dietary factors such as smoking status, physical activity, and body mass index.

The World Health Organization and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture organization have previously recommended restricting ultra-processed foods as part of a healthy sustainable diet, and there are ongoing efforts to reduce ultra-processed food consumption around the world, with countries such as Brazil, France, and Canada updating their national dietary guidelines.

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Since the study was observational, researchers noted the need for further research to establish a causal link between ultra-processed foods and cancer, as well as the importance of food reform and consumer education to protect the public from the negative health impacts of these foods.