Ultra-processed foods and human health: an umbrella review and updated meta-analyses of observational evidence

Shuhui Dai, Judith Wellens, Nan Yang, Doudou Li, Jingjing Wang, Lijuan Wang, Shuai Yuan, Yazhou He, Peige Song, Ronald G Munger, Monique Potvin Kent, Amanda J. MacFarlane, Patrick Mullie, Susan J Duthie, Julian Little, Evropi Theodoratou, Xue Li*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background & aims: Ultra-processed food (UPF) intake has increased sharply over the last few decades and has been consistently asserted to be implicated in the development of non-communicable diseases. We aimed to evaluate and update the existing observational evidence for associations between ultra-processed food (UPF) consumption and human health.

Methods: We searched Medline and Embase from inception to March 2023 to identify and update meta-analyses of observational studies examining the associations between UPF consumption, as defined by the NOVA classification, and a wide spectrum of health outcomes. For each health outcome, we estimated the summary effect size, 95% confidence interval (CI), between-study heterogeneity, evidence of small-study effects, and evidence of excess-significance bias. These metrics were used to evaluate evidence credibility of the identified associations.

Results: This umbrella review identified 39 meta-analyses on the associations between UPF consumption and health outcomes. We updated all meta-analyses by including 122 individual articles on 49 unique health outcomes. The majority of the included studies divided UPF consumption into quartiles, with the lowest quartile being the reference group. We identified 25 health outcomes associated with UPF consumption. For observational studies, 2 health outcomes, including renal function decline (OR: 1.25; 95% CI: 1.18, 1.33) and wheezing in children and adolescents (OR: 1.42; 95% CI: 1.34, 1.49), showed convincing evidence (Class I); and five outcomes were reported with highly suggestive evidence (Class II), including diabetes mellitus, overweight, obesity, depression, and common mental disorders.

Conclusions: High UPF consumption is associated with an increased risk of a variety of chronic diseases and mental health disorders. At present, not a single study reported an association between UPF intake and a beneficial health outcome. These findings suggest that dietary patterns with low consumption of UPFs may render broad public health benefits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1386-1394
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Nutrition
Issue number6
Early online date17 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Ultra-processed foods
  • NOVA classification
  • Heath outcomes
  • Meta-analysis
  • Umbrella review


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