Time for Warning Labels? Professor Warns Against Ultra-Processed Foods

Written by Kathrine Frich

Jun.27 - 2024 8:24 AM CET

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock
A university professor is raising the alarm about diets high in ultra-processed foods (UPFs).

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A university professor is raising the alarm about the increasing global health risks associated with diets high in ultra-processed foods (UPFs).

According to Ziare he argues that these foods should come with warning labels similar to those on cigarette packages.

Ultra-Processed Foods and Global Diets

Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of São Paulo, who coined the term UPF, emphasizes the growing threat these foods pose to both children and adults.

Speaking at the International Congress on Obesity, Monteiro highlighted that UPFs are replacing healthier diets worldwide despite mounting evidence of their risks.

According to Monteiro, these foods are not only replacing healthier options but also degrading overall diet quality, contributing to the global obesity pandemic and related chronic diseases such as diabetes.

The Rising Consumption and Health Risks

The alarming rise in global consumption of UPFs includes items like cereals, protein bars, carbonated drinks, ready meals, and fast food.

In the UK and the US, more than half of the average diet now consists of ultra-processed foods. This proportion can be as high as 80% for some individuals, particularly among younger, poorer, or disadvantaged populations.

A major analysis in February linked UPFs directly to 32 harmful health effects, including increased risks of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, poor mental health, and early death.

A Call for Action and Awareness

Monteiro and his colleagues first introduced the term UPF 15 years ago when they developed the "Nova" food classification system. This system assesses foods based not only on their nutritional content but also on the processes they undergo before consumption. Nova categorizes foods and beverages into four groups: minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods. Monteiro's call for UPFs to carry health warnings is a plea for greater awareness and action to combat the growing public health crisis they represent.