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Processed Foods Linked to Increased Risk of Cancer Study Finds

Processed Foods Linked to Increased Risk of Cancer Study Finds
Processed Foods Linked to Increased Risk of Cancer Study Finds. Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The School of Public Health at Imperial College London has developed the most comprehensive assessment to date of the connection between ultra-processed foods and the risk of getting cancer.

Fizzy drinks, packaged bread made on a large scale, many ready meals, and the vast majority of breakfast cereals are examples of ultra-processed foods.

Often marketed as healthier alternatives, ultra-processed meals are quick, affordable, and easy to find. Nonetheless, these meals tend to include more artificial ingredients and greater levels of salt, fat, and sugar. It is now well known that they can lead to a number of health problems, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

With the use of UK Biobank records, researchers were able to analyze the eating habits of over 200,000 middle-aged adults in the United Kingdom for the first study of its type.

Over a 10-year period, participants’ health was tracked to determine their overall risk of having cancer and their chance of getting one of 34 specific types of cancer. The possibility of dying from cancer was also investigated.

Higher risk of cancer linked to eating ultra-processed food

Higher intake of ultra-processed foods was linked to a higher risk of cancer, particularly in specific ovarian and brain cancers. Furthermore, it was linked to an elevated fatality rate from various cancers, including ovarian and breast cancers.

Specifically, ovarian cancer rose by 19% for every 10% increase in a person’s diet that consisted of ultra-processed foods.

Death from all causes of cancer increased by 6% for every 10% increase in the intake of ultra-processed foods; death from breast cancer rose by 16% and ovarian cancer by 30%.

These connections persisted despite accounting for a variety of socioeconomic, behavioral, and dietary factors such as smoking and physical activity patterns.

The study, which appears in eClinicalMedicine, was conducted by the Imperial group in conjunction with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the University of São Paulo, and NOVA University Lisbon.

UK tops the list of consuming ultra-processed foods

Adults and children in the UK consume the most ultra-processed foods in Europe, according to a previous study done by the team.

Researchers also discovered a link between eating a lot of ultra-processed foods and an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in people in the UK, as well as a larger risk of weight gain from childhood into early adulthood in kids of that country.

Dr. Eszter Vamos, the senior lead author for the study from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, said: “This study adds to the growing evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to negatively impact our health, including our risk for cancer. Given the high levels of consumption in UK adults and children, this has important implications for future health outcomes.

“Although our study cannot prove causation, other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in our 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.”

As part of a healthy, sustainable diet, the World Health Organization and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation have previously suggested cutting back on ultra-processed foods.

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