Study links heavily processed foods to risk of earlier death

Ultraprocessed foods accounted for more than 14% of the weight of total food consumed and about 29% of total calories they found

Ultraprocessed foods accounted for more than 14% of the weight of total food consumed and about 29% of total calories they found

They added, "Ultra-processed foods are mostly consumed in the form of snacks, desserts, or ready-to-eat or -heat meals", and their consumption "has largely increased during the past several decades".

To examine the relationship between ultra-processed foods and the risk of an earlier-than-expected death, the researchers enlisted the help of 44,551 French adults for two years. They concluded eating 10 percent more ultra-processed foods resulted in a 14 percent higher risk of death.

The link was clear even after taking into account the greater likelihood of deprivation, smoking, obesity and lower educational background among those who ate ultra-processed food, the researchers say.

The authors speculate that the additives, the packaging (chemicals leech into the food during storage) and the processing itself, including high-temperature processing, may be the factors that negatively affect health.

Over seven years of follow-up, there were 602 deaths, of which 219 were from cancer and 34 from cardiovascular disease.

They're often manufactured from a dizzying array of ingredients, and contain additives for "technological and/or cosmetic purposes", wrote the authors of the study.

Processes such as extrusion, hydrogenation and hydrolysis were devised to make food less perishable and more appetizing. This percentage is actually fairly low compared to most western cultures: the diet of families in the United Kingdom reportedly consists of about 50% ultra-processed foods; this number rises to nearly 58% for Americans, according to a 2016 study.

According to the study, published Monday in the journal Jama Internal Medicine, consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with younger age, lower income, lower education level, living alone, higher body mass index, and a lower physical activity level.

Nita Forouhi of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge told The Guardian further investigation was needed, "yet we would ignore these findings at public health's peril".

Some scientists argued that the study's categorization of ultraprocessed foods was too wide and therefore not strong enough to come to a confident conclusion, according to The Guardian.

"The association between proportion of ultra-processed foods and overall mortality was the main outcome", the report reads.