Study of nearly 200,000 people linked ultra-processed foods to increased risk of deadly cancer

Eating more ultra-processed foods increases your risk of getting and dying from cancer, especially ovarian cancer, according to a new study of over 197,000 people in the UK, over half of whom were women.

Highly processed foods include packaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza and ready meals, as well as hot dogs, sausage, french fries, soda, store-bought cookies, cakes, candy, donuts, ice cream and more.

“Ultra-processed foods are made with industrially-derived ingredients and often use food additives to adjust color, taste, consistency, texture, or shelf life,” said first author Dr. Kiara Chang, National Institute for Health and Care Research Fellow at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health in a statement.

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“Our bodies may not respond to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives in the same way that they do to fresh and nutritious, minimally processed foods,” Chang said.

However, people who eat more highly processed foods also tend to “drink more carbonated beverages and less tea and coffee, as well as fewer vegetables and other foods associated with healthy eating patterns,” said Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior Teacher Fellow at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, UK.

File image: Eating more ultra-processed foods increases your risk of developing and dying from cancer, particularly ovarian cancer, according to a new study. Credit: Getty Images

“This could mean that it may not be a specific effect of the highly processed foods themselves, but instead reflect the effects of lower intakes of healthier foods,” said Mellor, who was not involved in the study.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal eClinicalMedicine, looked at the link between eating ultra-processed foods and 34 different types of cancer over a 10-year period.

The researchers examined information about the eating habits of 197,426 people who were part of the UK Biobank, a large biomedical database and research resource that followed residents from 2006 to 2010.

The amount of ultra-processed foods consumed by study participants ranged from a low of 9.1 percent to a high of 41.4 percent of their diet, the study found.

Eating habits were then compared to medical records listing both diagnoses and deaths from cancer.

According to a statement from Imperial College London, every 10 per cent increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a 2 per cent increase in cancer development and a 19 per cent increased risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Cancer deaths also increased, the study found. For every additional 10 percent increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods, the risk of dying from cancer increased by 6 percent, while the risk of dying from ovarian cancer increased by 30 percent, according to the statement.

“These associations persisted after adjusting for a range of sociodemographic factors, smoking status, physical activity level, and major dietary factors,” the authors wrote.

File: For every additional 10 percent increase in ultraprocessed food consumption, the risk of dying from cancer increased by 6 percent. Credit: Oscar Wong/Getty Images

When it comes to cancer deaths in women, ovarian cancer ranks fifth and “is responsible for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system,” according to the American Cancer Society.

“The findings add to previous studies showing a link between a higher proportion of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) in the diet and a higher risk of obesity, heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes,” said Simon Steenson, a nutritionist at British Nutrition Foundation, a charity supported in part by food producers and manufacturers.

“However, an important limitation of these previous studies and the new analysis published today is that the results are observational and therefore do not support a clear causal association between UPFs and cancer or the risk of other diseases,” Steenson said.

People who ate the most processed foods “were younger and had less family histories of cancer,” Chang and her colleagues wrote.

Heavy consumers of ultra-processed foods were less likely to be physically active and were more likely to be classified as obese. These people also likely had lower household incomes and education, and lived in the most disadvantaged communities, the study found.

“This study adds to the growing body of evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to have adverse effects on our health, including our risk of cancer,” said Dr. Eszter Vamos, lead author of the study and Senior Clinical Lecturer at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health.

This latest research isn’t the first to show a link between high intakes of ultra-processed foods and cancer.

A 2022 study looked at the diets of over 200,000 men and women in the United States for up to 28 years and found an association between ultra-processed foods and colon cancer — the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States — in men , but not in women .

And there are “literally hundreds of studies linking ultra-processed foods to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality,” said Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor Emeritus of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health from New York University CNN previously.

While the new UK study fails to show causality, only association, “other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diets could provide important health benefits,” Vamos said.

“Further research is needed to confirm these findings and to understand the best public health strategies to reduce the widespread presence and harms of ultra-processed foods in our diets,” she added.

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James Brien

James Brien is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. James Brien joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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