Junk food diet 'DOES increase risk of cancer, heart disease and dying young'

Bacon sarnies, chips, white bread, ready meals, sausages, sugary cereal and fizzy drinks increase the risk of early death, French scientists found.

Ultra-processed foods make obesity, cancer and high blood pressure much more likely, their study suggests.

Eating just 10 per cent more junk food, increases the risk of early death by 14 per cent, a team at Paris-Sorbonne University discovered.

More bad news for junk food addicts

It adds to a mounting body of evidence that suggests we need to overall our diets, or face chronic, deadly diseases.

Junk food is so popular in the UK, experts estimate it makes up half the average Brit diet.

Dr Laure Schnabel's team examined the diets of almost 45,000 middle-aged people – and found heart disease, cancer and other chronic disease was linked to eating more junk food.

Dr Schnabel said: "Ultra-processed foods contain multiple ingredients.

"They are usually ready to heat and eat, affordable, and hyper-palatable.

"Examples include mass-produced and packaged snacks, sugary drinks, breads, confectioneries, ready-made meals and processed meats.

"Ultra-processed foods are generally energy dense, rich in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and salt, and contain low dietary fibre.

"These features have been associated with several non-communicable disease that are the leading cause of mortality."

Cancer-causing toxins might be to blame

Another reason for the link with deadly disease, could be contaminants – some of which could be carcinogenic – which have been found in heat-treated processed foods.

Many contain legal but controversial additives, like sodium nitrite and titanium oxide.

Previous studies have shown they cause, high blood pressure and cancer.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), respiratory disease, cancer and diabetes account for more than 80 per cent of all premature deaths from non-communicable disease worldwide.

The findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine were based on a survey of 44,551 healthy 45 to 64 year-olds in France with an average age of 57 who kept 24-hour dietary records.

Brits eat more junk food than rest of EU

This enabled the researchers to measure their intake of more than 3,000 different food items classified into four groups depending on their level of processing.

Overall they accounted for 29 per cent of total energy intake – about 20 per cent less than in the UK and other industrialised countries.

Dr Schnabel said: "A 10 per cent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed food consumption was statistically significantly associated with a 14 per cent higher risk of all-cause mortality."

It suggests Brits are even more at risk because they consume much more ultra-processed food than the French.

Last year a study of 19 European countries found 50 per cent of food sold in the UK is ultra-processed compared with 46 per cent in Germany, 45 per cent in Ireland – and 14 per cent in France.

Catherine Collins, an NHS dietitian, said: "This should be of significant interest to us in the UK, given half our daily calorie intake is deemed to come from 'ultra-processed' foods using the same definitions as this study."

More investigations are needed

Prof Nita Forouchi, from the University of Cambridge, said: "The case against highly processed foods in mounting up.

"Such foods are attractive because they tend to be cheaper, are highly palatable due to high sugar, salt and saturated fat, are widely available, highly marketed, ready-to-eat, and their use-by-dates are lengthy so they last longer."

She said to tackle the problem three Ps were needed:

  • people need more info and health education is critical
  • places that sell foods need to provide easy access to and promote healthier options
  • products need to be available that are not ultra-processed, and are affordable.

But they and other experts agreed more research is needed before any firm conclusions are made.

Dr Ian Johnson, from the Quadram Institute Bioscience, said: "It is very difficult to draw any firm conclusions from this investigation.

"To put things in perspective, although the risk of dying over the seven-year period of investigation was about 15 per cent higher among those consuming more of these foods, the background across the whole group was very low.

"Happily, 98.6 per cent of the participants were still alive at the end of the study."

Meanwhile, Prof Kevin McConway at The Open University, said the new findings don't take us further in understanding why junk food is so bad for us.

He said: "It doesn't really tell us what causes what, it gets us no further forward on exactly what could be harmful in ultra-processed foods, and the size of the association found was pretty small anyway."

 

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