Comparing different policy scenarios to reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods in UK: impact on cardiovascular disease mortality using a modelling approach

PLoS One. 2015 Feb 13;10(2):e0118353. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118353. eCollection 2015.


Background: The global burden of non-communicable diseases partly reflects growing exposure to ultra-processed food products (UPPs). These heavily marketed UPPs are cheap and convenient for consumers and profitable for manufacturers, but contain high levels of salt, fat and sugars. This study aimed to explore the potential mortality reduction associated with future policies for substantially reducing ultra-processed food intake in the UK.

Methods and findings: We obtained data from the UK Living Cost and Food Survey and from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey. By the NOVA food typology, all food items were categorized into three groups according to the extent of food processing: Group 1 describes unprocessed/minimally processed foods. Group 2 comprises processed culinary ingredients. Group 3 includes all processed or ultra-processed products. Using UK nutrient conversion tables, we estimated the energy and nutrient profile of each food group. We then used the IMPACT Food Policy model to estimate reductions in cardiovascular mortality from improved nutrient intakes reflecting shifts from processed or ultra-processed to unprocessed/minimally processed foods. We then conducted probabilistic sensitivity analyses using Monte Carlo simulation.

Results: Approximately 175,000 cardiovascular disease (CVD) deaths might be expected in 2030 if current mortality patterns persist. However, halving the intake of Group 3 (processed) foods could result in approximately 22,055 fewer CVD related deaths in 2030 (minimum estimate 10,705, maximum estimate 34,625). An ideal scenario in which salt and fat intakes are reduced to the low levels observed in Group 1 and 2 could lead to approximately 14,235 (minimum estimate 6,680, maximum estimate 22,525) fewer coronary deaths and approximately 7,820 (minimum estimate 4,025, maximum estimate 12,100) fewer stroke deaths, comprising almost 13% mortality reduction.

Conclusions: This study shows a substantial potential for reducing the cardiovascular disease burden through a healthier food system. It highlights the crucial importance of implementing healthier UK food policies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Diet*
  • Energy Intake
  • Fast Foods
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food Handling*
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nutrition Policy*
  • United Kingdom