Background: Ultra-processed food (UPF) consumption has increased over the last decades in Westernized countries. Our objective was to investigate for the first time the association between the proportion of UPF (%UPF) in the diet and incident depressive symptoms in the NutriNet-Santé cohort.
Methods: The sample included 20,380 women and 6350 men (aged 18-86 years) without depressive symptoms at the first Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) measurement, using validated cut-offs (CES-D score ≥ 17 for men and ≥ 23 for women). The proportion of UPF in the diet was computed for each subject using the NOVA classification applied to dietary intakes collected by repeated 24-h records (mean = 8; SD = 2.3). The association between UPF and depressive symptoms was evaluated using multivariable Cox proportional hazards models.
Results: Over a mean follow-up of 5.4 years, 2221 incident cases of depressive symptoms were identified. After accounting for a wide range of potential confounders, an increased risk of depressive symptoms was observed with an increased %UPF in the diet. In the main model adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics, body mass index, and lifestyle factors, the estimated hazard ratio for a 10% increase in UPF was 1.21 (95% confidence interval = 1.15-1.27). Considering %UPF in food groups, the association was significant only for beverages and sauces or added fats.
Conclusion: Overall, UPF consumption was positively associated with the risk of incident depressive symptoms, suggesting that accounting for this non-nutritional aspect of the diet could be important for mental health promotion.
Keywords: Depression; Mental health; Prospective cohort; Ultra-processed food.