Girl works at a computer and eats fast food. Unhealthy food: chips, crackers, candy, waffles, cola. Junk food, concept.

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LONDON — Eating junk food — which scientists often call ultra-processed foods — including sugary drinks, sliced bread, and ready-made meals may be increasing your risk of cancer with every bite. A new study warns that these foods are generally high in salt, fat, sugar, and contain artificial additives and can also lead to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. They are often cheaper, more convenient to buy, and heavily marketed in comparison to other, healthier options. Now, researchers say they can increase a person’s risk of death from cancer — especially among women.

“The average person in the UK consumes more than half of their daily energy intake from ultra-processed foods. This is exceptionally high and concerning as ultra-processed foods are produced with industrially derived ingredients and often use food additives to adjust color, flavor, consistency, texture, or extend shelf life,” says study first author Dr. Kiara Chang from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health in a media release.

“Our bodies may not react the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to fresh and nutritious minimally processed foods. However, ultra-processed foods are everywhere and highly marketed with cheap price and attractive packaging to promote consumption. This shows our food environment needs urgent reform to protect the population from ultra-processed foods.”

Ultra-processed foods significantly increase cancers in women

The researchers used UK Biobank records to gather their data. They studied the diets of 200,000 middle-aged adults, monitoring their health over 10 years and looking at each person’s risk of developing any cancer overall, as well as the specific risk of developing 34 different types of cancer.

The team also looked into the risk of people dying from cancer. The study reveals that the higher consumption of ultra-processed foods displays a connection to a greater risk of developing cancer overall, while putting people more at risk specifically of ovarian and brain cancers. Eating too much junk food also displayed a link to an increased risk of dying from cancer, most notably from ovarian and breast cancers.

For every 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food in a person’s diet, there was an increased incidence of two percent for cancer overall and a 19-percent increase for ovarian cancer specifically. For adults, the more of these ultra-processed foods they ate, the higher the risk they had of developing obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

These links remained even after adjusting for a range of socioeconomic, behavioral, and dietary factors, such as smoking status, physical activity, and body mass index (BMI). The Imperial College London team have previously reported that levels of consumption of ultra-processed foods in the United Kingdom are the highest in Europe for both adults and children.

‘We need clear front of pack warning labels for ultra-processed foods’

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has previously recommended restricting ultra-processed foods as part of a healthy sustainable diet. There are now ongoing efforts to reduce ultra-processed food consumption around the world.

Countries such as Brazil, France, and Canada have updated their national dietary guidelines with recommendations to limit such foods. Brazil has also banned the marketing of ultra-processed foods in schools.

“We need clear front of pack warning labels for ultra-processed foods to aid consumer choices, and our sugar tax should be extended to cover ultra-processed fizzy drinks, fruit-based and milk-based drinks, as well as other ultra-processed products,” Dr. Chang adds.

“Lower income households are particularly vulnerable to these cheap and unhealthy ultra-processed foods. Minimally processed and freshly prepared meals should be subsidized to ensure everyone has access to healthy, nutritious and affordable options.”

“This study adds to the growing evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to negatively impact our health including our risk for cancer. Given the high levels of consumption in UK adults and children, this has important implications for future health outcomes,” says senior lead author Dr. Eszter Vamos from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health.

“Although our study cannot prove causation, other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diet could provide important health benefits. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the best public health strategies to reduce the widespread presence and harms of ultra-processed foods in our diet.”

The study is published in the journal EClinicalMedicine.

South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.

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17 Comments

  1. Stan B says:

    The Dose makes the Poison. If you drink too much water, you die from water poisoning. If you eat too much junk, it’s bad for you. If you live too long, you get cancers. RISK assessment is something we no longer do – we just panic over every little thing. Food security used to be an issue – where there really wasn’t enough food for everyone to get enough to eat on a daily basis. This lead to all sorts of horrible health conditions. Now we have OTHER health conditions because we have SURPLUS food. But that’s no reason to panic – educate yourself about your own risks, and make decisions about your own lifestyle choices. And that fry in your happy meal is NOT going to kill you, whatever some egghead looking for another grant to study salt says.

    1. Paddy O’Furniture says:

      It’s not the fry as much as it is the quality of the meat used to make a $1 burger

  2. john says:

    Tooo many words, should say:

    “Every bit of food leads to cancer”.

  3. Eric M. says:

    So junk food causes cancer but according to other studies, pesticides on fruits and vegetables cause cancer even organic because the levels just need to be below an “acceptable” level, meat causes cancer, tap and bottled water causes cancer. So in a nutshell, life causes cancer. Many people who eat very healthy get cancer and many who eat junk food diets never get cancer. It’s essentially a lottery.

  4. Benjamine Dover says:

    Every breath of air you take increases your risk of cancer.

  5. Al Bundy says:

    The news went decades back and forth about whether coffee did or did not cause cancer. Then it was Vitamin D and wine. Butter and eggs were swapped out for trans fats and egg substitutes. There are a whole slew of viruses that are probably one of the biggest associations for many types of cancers. I will be eating and sodium laden grilled bratwurst and drinking beer on Superbowl Sunday.

  6. patrick says:

    don’t let them instill fear in u. of course to much of anything is no good for u. if you exercise regularly, eat right, you can enjoy some garbage, but don’t over do it

  7. dammitt says:

    The only thing that doesn’t increase the risk of cancer is death.

  8. Bunter says:

    Though I am sound of health I wish I knew how toxic junk food was years ago. It is just as cheap to eat healthy food, except it takes a bit longer to prepare it.

  9. Donald James says:

    Has this study been verified through independent experimental testing? How can a responsible news source not ask that question? It really matters whether or not a “study” is hypothetical or has been confirmed through independent testing.

  10. Brian says:

    Another over-hyped Association Study (as opposed to harder, real science), with the predictable cry to restrict people from eating what they like — for their own good of course.

  11. Bill Billings says:

    Sorry but far too broad a term saying “junk food.” In order for this to have practical value, specifics have to be established. Not just the term “junk food” as if that’s a known thing. So what am I talking about? Go snap off a fresh ear of corn from your friendly neighborhood farm. Let’s bring that ear of fresh corn back to our house, shuck it and boil for 5 min. Now let’s put on just a little butter (or you can leave it off) and a light sprinkle of salt. Yum! So good and healthy, right? WRONG! I just finished my dissertation on what happens to corn in the alimentary canal and throughout the digestive process. It’s absolute GARBAGE converting into simple sugars and even more simple starches. Your body could not tell the difference if you ate a slice of “junk” Wonder Bread® sprinkled with sugar and salt. So is corn “junk food?” So how silly this all is?

    1. Violet is not purple says:

      corn is horrible for humans and cows that are forced to eat it…..the butter is good for you….totally backwards what we are taught. If everybody is healthy we wouldnt need Pharma or Doctors on the scale we have now

    2. Czech Bounce says:

      That is absurd.
      Disseration paid for by whom, to prove what?
      Simple sugars are not bad for you, nor are simple starches.
      The butter is OK if you don’t each it all the time in excess, the salt is not good if you are getting too much of it.
      Just regular corn, assuming it’s not GMO or treated with pesticides is fine as long as you don’t eat too much of it.
      Junk food in general means processed food. Food that has additives in it … a long ingredients list.
      Corn is not junk food, but your comment and attitude is pretty junky.
      What was that, a dissertation for the Republican Troll of the year?

  12. Andrew says:

    Harry Hinson once said to me, and I quote him precisely; “The older you are, the more likely you are to die.” I thought that was genius!

  13. Lisa Swift says:

    I guess take a look around at the elderly people, see what they’ve been eating and their lifestyle that got them to this point. I had relatives that made it to their late 80’s that were by no means going over the top with health food. Live in moderation and work on keeping stress at bay.

  14. Raine Navalta says:

    Clearly this is the bad side of eating too much and especially “junk food” or extremely processed foods. It’s understandably that if you eat everything in excess there will be consequences. Our bodies are not meant to binge eat until we die, but to eat enough to live and survive. Our bodies need daily nutrients, energy and sometime for pleasure, to feel good or else sweet foods won’t exist at all. What I am trying to say is, eat in moderation but also minimize eating processed food or junk foods. Be wise in picking the type and quality food you want to eat because those additives, and other chemicals that we don’t care to look at on the packaging that we consume can harm our bodies in a long term. You only live once! Eating “small amounts” or “every once in a while” of junk foods is not going to hurt you. Replenish your body with enough water, eat more vegetables and fruits, eat less meat and drink alcohol in moderation, detox your body with antioxidants (by juicing veggies and fruits) and exercise regularly.