Ultra-processed foods, incident overweight and obesity, and longitudinal changes in weight and waist circumference: the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (ELSA-Brasil)

Public Health Nutr. 2020 Apr;23(6):1076-1086. doi: 10.1017/S1368980019002854. Epub 2019 Oct 17.


Objective: To evaluate the association of ultra-processed food (UPF) consumption with gains in weight and waist circumference, and incident overweight/obesity, in the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (ELSA-Brasil) cohort.

Design: We applied FFQ at baseline and categorized energy intake by degree of processing using the NOVA classification. Height, weight and waist circumference were measured at baseline and after a mean 3·8-year follow-up. We assessed associations, through Poisson regression with robust variance, of UPF consumption with large weight gain (1·68 kg/year) and large waist gain (2·42 cm/year), both being defined as ≥90th percentile in the cohort, and with incident overweight/obesity.

Setting: Brazil.

Participants: Civil servants of Brazilian public academic institutions in six cities (n 11 827), aged 35-74 years at baseline (2008-2010).

Results: UPF provided a mean 24·6 (sd 9·6) % of ingested energy. After adjustment for smoking, physical activity, adiposity and other factors, fourth (>30·8 %) v. first (<17·8 %) quartile of UPF consumption was associated (relative risk (95 % CI)) with 27 and 33 % greater risk of large weight and waist gains (1·27 (1·07, 1·50) and 1·33 (1·12, 1·58)), respectively. Similarly, those in the fourth consumption quartile presented 20 % greater risk (1·20 (1·03, 1·40)) of incident overweight/obesity and 2 % greater risk (1·02; (0·85, 1·21)) of incident obesity. Approximately 15 % of cases of large weight and waist gains and of incident overweight/obesity could be attributed to consumption of >17·8 % of energy as UPF.

Conclusions: Greater UPF consumption predicts large gains in overall and central adiposity and may contribute to the inexorable rise in obesity seen worldwide.

Keywords: Food handling; Obesity; Ultra-processed food; Weight gain.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Weight
  • Body-Weight Trajectory*
  • Brazil
  • Fast Foods / adverse effects
  • Fast Foods / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Overweight / epidemiology*
  • Overweight / etiology
  • Overweight / physiopathology
  • Waist Circumference*