Processed and ultra-processed foods are associated with lower-quality nutrient profiles in children from Colombia

Public Health Nutr. 2018 Jan;21(1):142-147. doi: 10.1017/S1368980017000891. Epub 2017 May 30.


Objective: To determine if processed and ultra-processed foods consumed by children in Colombia are associated with lower-quality nutrition profiles than less processed foods.

Design: We obtained information on sociodemographic and anthropometric variables and dietary information through dietary records and 24 h recalls from a convenience sample of the Bogotá School Children Cohort. Foods were classified into three categories: (i) unprocessed and minimally processed foods, (ii) processed culinary ingredients and (iii) processed and ultra-processed foods. We also examined the combination of unprocessed foods and processed culinary ingredients.

Setting: Representative sample of children from low- to middle-income families in Bogotá, Colombia.

Subjects: Children aged 5-12 years in 2011 Bogotá School Children Cohort.

Results: We found that processed and ultra-processed foods are of lower dietary quality in general. Nutrients that were lower in processed and ultra-processed foods following adjustment for total energy intake included: n-3 PUFA, vitamins A, B12, C and E, Ca and Zn. Nutrients that were higher in energy-adjusted processed and ultra-processed foods compared with unprocessed foods included: Na, sugar and trans-fatty acids, although we also found that some healthy nutrients, including folate and Fe, were higher in processed and ultra-processed foods compared with unprocessed and minimally processed foods.

Conclusions: Processed and ultra-processed foods generally have unhealthy nutrition profiles. Our findings suggest the categorization of foods based on processing characteristics is promising for understanding the influence of food processing on children's dietary quality. More studies accounting for the type and degree of food processing are needed.

Keywords: Children; Nutrients; Processed and ultra-processed foods.

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colombia
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Family Characteristics
  • Fast Foods*
  • Fatty Acids / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Food Handling
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Micronutrients / administration & dosage
  • Mothers
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Fatty Acids
  • Micronutrients