Consumption of ultra-processed foods and associated sociodemographic factors in the USA between 2007 and 2012: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study

BMJ Open. 2018 Mar 9;8(3):e020574. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-020574.


Objectives: To compare ultra-processed food consumption across sociodemographic groups and over time (2007-2008, 2009-2010, 2011-2012) in the USA.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2007-2012.

Participants: All individuals aged ≥2 years with at least one 24-hour dietary recall were included (n=23 847).

Main outcome measures: Average dietary contribution of ultra-processed foods (expressed as a percentage of the total caloric value of the diet), obtained after classifying all food items according to extent and purpose of industrial food processing using NOVA classification.

Data analysis: Linear regression was used to evaluate the association between sociodemographic characteristics or NHANES cycles and dietary contribution of ultra-processed foods.

Results: Almost 60% of calories consumed in the period 2007-2012 came from ultra-processed foods. Consumption of ultra-processed foods decreased with age and income level, was higher for non-Hispanic whites or non-Hispanic blacks than for other race/ethnicity groups and lower for people with college than for lower levels of education, all differences being statistically significant. Overall contribution of ultra-processed foods increased significantly between NHANES cycles (nearly 1% point per cycle), the same being observed among males, adolescents and high school education-level individuals.

Conclusions: Ultra-processed food consumption in the USA in the period 2007-2012 was overall high, greater among non-Hispanic whites or non-Hispanic blacks, less educated, younger, lower-income strata and increased across time.

Keywords: United States; diet; nutrition surveys.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet, Healthy / statistics & numerical data
  • Energy Intake*
  • Fast Foods / statistics & numerical data*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Food Additives
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Time Factors
  • United States


  • Food Additives