Junk food diet is killing us: Eating processed foods such as burgers, sugary cereals and pizzas increases risk of fatal diseases, with Britons the worst culprits in Europe
- New study of 45,000 people found link between death and ultra-processed food
- Previous data has shown such meals can cause high blood pressure and cancer
- But this is first to investigate consumption of such products and mortality risk
Eating too many burgers, pizzas, biscuits and cakes can knock years off your life, according to new research.
A study of almost 45,000 middle-aged people found that deaths from heart disease, cancer and other illnesses were linked to the consumption of ‘ultra-processed food’.
These include: chips, white bread, ready meals, sausages, sugary cereals and fizzy drinks – essentially any product involving an industrial procedure.
Worryingly, these snacks make up half the average Briton’s diet – a higher proportion than any other European country – and they are prematurely killing us, say scientists.
And a 10 per cent increase in how much junk someone eats is associated with a 14 per cent rise in their risk of dying within the next eight years, they added.
Fact: In addition to higher contents of total fat, saturated fat and added sugar, many fast food items contain legal but controversial additives such as sodium nitrite and titanium oxide
Previous research has shown that these fat-rich, low-fibre foods cause high blood pressure and cancer, but this is the first to investigate consumption and mortality risk.
Co-author Dr Laure Schnabel, a nutritional epidemiologist at Paris-Sorbonne University, said: ‘Ultra-processed foods contain multiple ingredients.
‘The nutritional characteristics of [these] could partly explain the development of non-communicable chronic diseases among those who consume them.’
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In addition to having a higher content of total fat, saturated fat and added sugar, many fast food items contain legal but controversial additives such as sodium nitrite and titanium oxide.
Meanwhile, artificial sweeteners – which are also commonly present in snacks – are suspected of altering gut bacteria, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases which are major causes of premature mortality.
Together, when consumed in substantial volume over time, they can trigger long-term, potentially fatal illnesses.
Too much: 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 and 14 per cent in France
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.
This enabled researchers to measure their intake of more than 3,000 different food items classified into four groups depending on their level of processing.
Overall, fast food accounted for 29 per cent of total energy intake – about 20 per cent less than in the UK and other industrialised countries, where it’s half of a UK person’s diet. More than anywhere else in Europe.
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.
Demographic: Higher fast food consumption was associated with younger age, lower income and educational level, living alone, higher BMI and less physical activity
HOW IS THE GOVERNMENT TRYING TO TACKLE OBESITY?
October’s proposed plans to restrict the number of calories in pizzas, pies and ready meals came as part of drastic Government moves over the past year to try and cut down on obesity.
A tax on added sugar in drinks came into force in April, requiring companies to hand over more of the money they make from drinks which contain more than 5g of sugar per 100ml of liquid.
As a result, many soft drinks have had their recipes changed in order to avoid paying the tax and putting prices up. Sugary drinks are the biggest single source of sugar for children and teenagers.
The Government is also considering making it compulsory for all restaurants and fast food outlets to display the number of calories in each meal on their menu.
Some food outlets already do this but there can be unexpected numbers of calories in popular dishes, and the Government is consulting on the plans before a decision is due in spring.
In March this year, Public Health England warned Brits to crack down on the number of calories they’re eating, advising people to consume no more than 1,600 per day.
The watchdog says adults shouldn’t eat any more than 400 calories for breakfast, 600 for lunch and 600 for dinner – this would allow for some snacks, experts said.
Examples of 600-calorie meals include a tuna pasta salad and a small cereal bar, a chicken salad sandwich and a pack of crisps, or half a pepperoni pizza with a quarter of a garlic baguette and a banana.
In the same announcement PHE said shops selling the food should cut down their portion sizes to help people slim their waistlines.
Plans are also being considered to ban advertising junk food on television before 9pm, to reduce the number of children who are exposed to it.
Last September a parliamentary report was presented to the French Assembly over concerns about the increased consumption of ultra-processed foods
It emphasised policy actions aimed at improving the nutritional quality of the food supply and reducing intake by a fifth by 2021.
Dr Schnabel said: ‘Ultra-processed foods consumption has largely increased during the past several decades and may drive a growing burden of non-communicable disease deaths.’
Higher consumption was associated with younger age, lower income and educational level, living alone, higher BMI and less physical activity.
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