Ultraprocessed Food: Addictive, Toxic, and Ready for Regulation

Nutrients. 2020 Nov 5;12(11):3401. doi: 10.3390/nu12113401.


Past public health crises (e.g., tobacco, alcohol, opioids, cholera, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), lead, pollution, venereal disease, even coronavirus (COVID-19) have been met with interventions targeted both at the individual and all of society. While the healthcare community is very aware that the global pandemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) has its origins in our Western ultraprocessed food diet, society has been slow to initiate any interventions other than public education, which has been ineffective, in part due to food industry interference. This article provides the rationale for such public health interventions, by compiling the evidence that added sugar, and by proxy the ultraprocessed food category, meets the four criteria set by the public health community as necessary and sufficient for regulation-abuse, toxicity, ubiquity, and externalities (How does your consumption affect me?). To their credit, some countries have recently heeded this science and have instituted sugar taxation policies to help ameliorate NCDs within their borders. This article also supplies scientific counters to food industry talking points, and sample intervention strategies, in order to guide both scientists and policy makers in instituting further appropriate public health measures to quell this pandemic.

Keywords: addiction; diabetes; metabolic syndrome; non-communicable disease; nutrition; policy; processed food.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / etiology
  • Behavior, Addictive / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Sugars / adverse effects*
  • Fast Foods / adverse effects*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Food Handling / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Food Industry / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Noncommunicable Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral
  • Public Health*
  • Public Policy
  • Social Control, Formal
  • Taxes


  • Dietary Sugars