Study reveals mental health risks associated with excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods

Much of the food currently sold in supermarkets falls into the ultra-processed category. Many are prepared in advance, snacks, frozen foods and sauces are among this food group that is consumed by a high percentage of the population. A fact that worries experts because according to a recent study published in a medical journal BMJ Overconsumption of this type of food carries a number of health risks, such as pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases, mental health problems such as depression and, in general, premature death.

Until now, studies published on this topic have pointed to the effects of ultra-processed foods on poor health, but they have never been examined in a comprehensive manner. That’s why the researchers responsible for this paper, led by Deakin University in Australia, analyzed 45 previous meta-analyses, which together amount to a sample of up to 10 million people surveyed. All of these studies were published in the last three years and in none of them received funding from junk food companies.

On the other hand, the assessments that were taken into account based on the analyzed questionnaires included the frequency of consumption of this type of food, dietary history and 24-hour dietary recall. The evidence obtained was grouped into different classes depending on whether it was strong, highly suggestive, suggestive, weak or no evidence.

Some findings that worry experts

The results were clear: up to 32 health problems were directly linked to high exposure to ultra-processed foods. First of all, the strongest evidence is related to cardiovascular disease. Consumption of unhealthy food can increase mortality associated with these diseases by 50%. An increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes by 12% and an increase in the risk of anxiety and psychological disorders by 48–53% are also considered convincing.

Very convincing results showed that the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, death related to heart disease and sleep problems increases by 40-66%; and a 22% chance of suffering from depression. Overall, the findings show that poor diet has serious consequences for people’s health, and overconsumption of sugars and saturated fats shortens life.

Excessive exposure to ultra-processed foods requires immediate solutions

Given such alarming results, experts suggest taking drastic measures. First, they support the development of other research that explains why these foods are harmful: how they function beyond their high salt or sugar content. They believe that this way they can better solve the problem and offer more effective solutions.

They are now also offering warnings on the packaging of these products, similar to the warnings found on tobacco packaging. Likewise, they believe that measures such as limiting the advertising or sale of these products in or near schools and hospitals can be effective. To do this, they require the intervention of states to take financial measures that make access to these foods more difficult, and the United Nations to conclude an agreement regulating everything related to this world.

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