Early Death from Ultra-Processed Food Additives: Study

We have published numerous posts over the past couple years highlighting scientific studies that have demonstrated a link between highly processed food and serious health outcomes.  Among the adverse health effects of ultra-processed foods demonstrated in scientific and medical studies are an increased death riskcognitive decline, depression and frailty, dementia, an increased risk for a stroke and a second heart attack, serious digestive conditions including IBD, diabetes, colon cancer, memory harm, and cardiovascular disease.  Ultra-processed foods* are not only deficient in nutrients and natural, whole foods as ingredients, but they contain exceptionally high levels of synthetic and industrialized food chemicals–many of these additives themselves have been found in previous scientific studies to be linked with serious health outcomes.

Now a new scientific study conducted in Brazil has demonstrated a link between eating ultra-processed foods** and a significantly increased risk for early death. In fact, the study results revealed that a diet high in ultra-processed foods was responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths in 2019 alone. Because ultra-processed foods account for more than half of Americans’ total caloric intake, this association with premature deaths could be even greater in the United States.


Study overview

A comparative risk assessment model was developed on the basis of relative risks from a recent meta-analysis, national food consumption for 20172018, and demographic and mortality data for 2019. Population attributable fractions for all-cause mortality were then estimated within each sex and age stratum according to the distribution of the ultra-processed food contribution to the total energy of the diet. Analysis was conducted in February 2022April 2022. (source)


Results overview

The contribution of ultra-processed foods to the total energy intake of the diet across sex and age stratum of Brazilian adults ranged from 13% to 21% of the total energy intake. A total of 541,160 adults aged 3069 years died in 2019. The consumption of ultra-processed foods was responsible for approximately 57,000 premature deaths or 10.5% of all pre-mature deaths in adults aged 3069 years. (source)



The researchers say that reducing the amount of ultra-processed foods of the total energy intake by 10%50% could potentially prevent 5,900 deaths to 29,300 deaths.

*To identify what are highly or ultra-processed foods go here.

**The study defined ultra-processed foods as ready-to-eat-or-heat industrial formulations made with ingredients extracted from foods or synthesized in laboratories. They can include pre-packaged soups and sauces, frozen pizza, hot dogs, sausages, sodas, ice cream and store-bought baked goods. 

Journal reference: Nilson, E.A.F., et al. Premature Deaths Attributable to the Consumption of Ultraprocessed Foods in Brazil, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2022;000(000):18. Article in press.

Study pdf