Objective: To review the available literature on the association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and body fat during childhood and adolescence.
Design: A systematic review was conducted in the PubMed, Web of Science and LILACS databases. Studies that evaluated the association between consumption of ultra-processed food (exposure) and body fat (outcome) during childhood and adolescence were eligible.
Subjects: Healthy children and adolescents.
Results: Twenty-six studies that evaluated groups of ultra-processed foods (such as snacks, fast foods, junk foods and convenience foods) or specific ultra-processed foods (soft drinks/sweetened beverages, sweets, chocolate and ready-to-eat cereals) were selected. Most of the studies (n 15) had a cohort design. Consumption was generally evaluated by means of FFQ or food records; and body composition, by means of double indirect methods (bioelectrical impedance analysis and skinfolds). Most of the studies that evaluated consumption of groups of ultra-processed foods and soft drinks/sweetened beverages found positive associations with body fat.
Conclusions: Our review showed that most studies have found positive associations between consumption of ultra-processed food and body fat during childhood and adolescence. There is a need to use a standardized classification that considers the level of food processing to promote comparability between studies.
Keywords: Adolescence; Body fat; Childhood; Obesity; Ultra-processed foods.