Ultra-processed food consumption and indicators of obesity in the United Kingdom population (2008-2016)

PLoS One. 2020 May 1;15(5):e0232676. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0232676. eCollection 2020.


We examined the association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and adiposity in a nationally representative sample of the UK adult population. We studied 6,143 participants (19 to 96 years, 51.6% female) sampled by the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2008-16). Food items reported in four-day food diary were classified according to the NOVA system. Multiple linear and logistic regressions were used to evaluate associations between the dietary contribution of ultra-processed foods (sex-specific quartile and continuous) and Body Mass Index (BMI), Waist Circumference (WC) and obesity (BMI>30kg/m2) and abdominal obesity (men: WC≥102cm, women: WC≥88cm) status. Models were adjusted for sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics. In multivariable analyses, the highest consumption of ultra-processed food was associated with 1.66 kg/m2 higher BMI (95%CI 0.96-2.36), 3.56 cm greater WC (95%CI 1.79-5.33) and 90% higher odds for being obese (OR = 1.90, 95%CI 1.39-2.61), compared with the lowest consumption. A 10% increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with an increase of 0.38 kg/m2 in BMI (95%CI 0.20-0.55), 0.87 cm in WC (95%CI 0.40-1.33) and 18% higher odds of being obese (OR = 1.18, 95%CI 1.08-1.28). The consumption of ultra-processed food was associated with an increase in BMI, WC and prevalence of obesity in both sexes. A dose response relationship was observed in both sexes, with a 10% increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods being associated with a 18% increase in the prevalence of obesity in men and a 17% increase in women. Higher consumption of ultra-processed food is associated with greater adiposity in the UK adult population. Policy makers should consider actions that promote consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and reduce consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Fast Foods / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity, Abdominal / epidemiology
  • Sex Factors
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Waist Circumference
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP), grant numbers 2015/14900-9, 2016/14302-7 and 2018/19820-1 (FR is a beneficiary of a postdoctoral fellowship). FAPESP had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.