Ultra-processed Foods and Risk of Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis: A Prospective Cohort Study

Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2022 Jun;20(6):e1323-e1337. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2021.08.031. Epub 2021 Aug 28.


Background & aims: The rising incidence of inflammatory bowel disease in regions undergoing Westernization has coincided with the increase in ultra-processed food (UPF) consumption over the past few decades. We aimed to examine the association between consumption of UPFs and the risk of Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC).

Methods: We performed a prospective cohort study of 3 nationwide cohorts of health professionals in the United States-the Nurses' Health Study (1986-2014), the Nurses' Health Study II (1991-2017), and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2012). We employed Cox proportional hazards models with adjustment for confounders to estimate the hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for CD and UC according to self-reported consumption of UPFs.

Results: The study included 245,112 participants. Over 5,468,444 person-years of follow-up, we documented 369 incident cases of CD and 488 incident cases of UC. The median age at diagnosis was 56 years (range, 29-85 years). Compared with participants in the lowest quartile of simple updated UPF consumption, those in the highest quartile had a significantly increased risk of CD (HR, 1.70; 95% CI, 1.23-2.35; Ptrend = .0008). Among different UPF subgroups, ultra-processed breads and breakfast foods; frozen or shelf-stable ready-to-eat/heat meals; and sauces, cheeses, spreads, and gravies showed the strongest positive associations with CD risk (HR per 1 standard deviation increase in intake, 1.18 [95% CI, 1.07-1.29], 1.11 [95% CI, 1.01-1.22], and 1.14 [95% CI, 1.02-1.27], respectively). There was no consistent association between UPF intake and UC risk.

Conclusions: Higher UPF intake was associated with an increased risk of incident CD. Further studies are needed to identify specific contributory dietary components.

Keywords: Emulsifier; Epidemiology; Inflammation; Nutrition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Colitis, Ulcerative* / complications
  • Crohn Disease* / epidemiology
  • Crohn Disease* / etiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases* / complications
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors