Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health outcomes: a systematic review of epidemiological studies

Nutr J. 2020 Aug 20;19(1):86. doi: 10.1186/s12937-020-00604-1.


Background: Consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) plays a potential role in the development of obesity and other diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), but no studies have systematically focused on this. This study aimed to summarize the evidence for the association between UPFs consumption and health outcomes.

Methods: A comprehensive search was conducted in PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science to identify all relevant studies. Epidemiological studies were included, and identified studies were evaluated for risk of bias.A narrative review of the synthesized findings was provided to assess the association between UPFs consumption and health outcomes.

Results: 20 studies (12 cohort and 8 cross-sectional studies) were included in the analysis, with a total of 334,114 participants and 10 health outcomes. In a narrative review, high UPFs consumption was obviously associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, overall cardiovascular diseases, coronary heart diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, overweight and obesity, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, overall cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, gestational obesity, adolescent asthma and wheezing, and frailty. It showed no significant association with cardiovascular disease mortality, prostate and colorectal cancers, gestational diabetes mellitus and gestational overweight.

Conclusions: This study indicated a positive association between UPFs consumption and risk of several health outcomes. Large-scale prospective designed studies are needed to confirm our findings.

Keywords: Health; Noncommunicable diseases; Systematic review; Ultra-processed foods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Fast Foods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies