Objective: To investigate how consumption of ultra-processed foods has changed in Sweden in relation to obesity.
Design: Nationwide ecological analysis of changes in processed foods along with corresponding changes in obesity. Trends in per capita food consumption during 1960-2010 were investigated using data from the Swedish Board of Agriculture. Food items were classified as group 1 (unprocessed/minimally processed), group 2 (processed culinary ingredients) or group 3 (3·1, processed food products; and 3·2, ultra-processed products). Obesity prevalence data were pooled from the peer-reviewed literature, Statistics Sweden and the WHO Global Health Observatory.
Setting: Nationwide analysis in Sweden, 1960-2010.
Subjects: Swedish nationals aged 18 years and older.
Results: During the study period consumption of group 1 foods (minimal processing) decreased by 2 %, while consumption of group 2 foods (processed ingredients) decreased by 34 %. Consumption of group 3·1 foods (processed food products) increased by 116 % and group 3·2 foods (ultra-processed products) increased by 142 %. Among ultra-processed products, there were particularly large increases in soda (315 %; 22 v. 92 litres/capita per annum) and snack foods such as crisps and candies (367 %; 7 v. 34 kg/capita per annum). In parallel to these changes in ultra-processed products, rates of adult obesity increased from 5 % in 1980 to over 11 % in 2010.
Conclusions: The consumption of ultra-processed products (i.e. foods with low nutritional value but high energy density) has increased dramatically in Sweden since 1960, which mirrors the increased prevalence of obesity. Future research should clarify the potential causal role of ultra-processed products in weight gain and obesity.
Keywords: Industrial food processing; Obesity; Overweight; Ultra-processed food products.