Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health-Processing or Nutrient Content?

Curr Obes Rep. 2017 Dec;6(4):420-431. doi: 10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4.


Purpose of review: The aim of this narrative review was to summarize and critique recent evidence evaluating the association between ultra-processed food intake and obesity.

Recent findings: Four of five studies found that higher purchases or consumption of ultra-processed food was associated with overweight/obesity. Additional studies reported relationships between ultra-processed food intake and higher fasting glucose, metabolic syndrome, increases in total and LDL cholesterol, and risk of hypertension. It remains unclear whether associations can be attributed to processing itself or the nutrient content of ultra-processed foods. Only three of nine studies used a prospective design, and the potential for residual confounding was high. Recent research provides fairly consistent support for the association of ultra-processed food intake with obesity and related cardiometabolic outcomes. There is a clear need for further studies, particularly those using longitudinal designs and with sufficient control for confounding, to potentially confirm these findings in different populations and to determine whether ultra-processed food consumption is associated with obesity independent of nutrient content.

Keywords: Food processing; Obesity; Overweight; Processed food; Ultra-processed food.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dyslipidemias / epidemiology
  • Eating*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fast Foods / adverse effects*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Food Handling*
  • Glucose Metabolism Disorders / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritional Status
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Obesity / diagnosis
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Pediatric Obesity / epidemiology
  • Pediatric Obesity / physiopathology
  • Pediatric Obesity / prevention & control
  • Prevalence
  • Recommended Dietary Allowances
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Weight Gain
  • Young Adult