Ultra-processed food consumption in adults across Europe

Eur J Nutr. 2022 Apr;61(3):1521-1539. doi: 10.1007/s00394-021-02733-7. Epub 2021 Dec 3.


Purpose: The purpose of this study is to describe ultra-processed food and drinks (UPFDs) consumption, and associations with intake of total sugar and dietary fibre, and high BMI in adults across Europe.

Methods: Using food consumption data collected by food records or 24-h dietary recalls available from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Comprehensive European Food Consumption Database, the foods consumed were classified by the level of processing using the NOVA classification. Diet quality was assessed by data linkage to the Dutch food composition tables (NEVO) and years lived with disability for high BMI from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Bivariate groupings were carried out to explore associations of UPFDs consumption with population intake of sugar and dietary fibre, and BMI burden, visualised by scatterplots.

Results: The energy share from UPFDs varied markedly across the 22 European countries included, ranging from 14 to 44%, being the lowest in Italy and Romania, while the highest in the UK and Sweden. An overall modest decrease (2-15%) in UPFDs consumption is observed over time, except for Finland, Spain and the UK reporting increases (3-9%). Fine bakery wares and soft drinks were most frequently ranked as the main contributor. Countries with a higher sugar intake reported also a higher energy share from UPFDs, as most clearly observed for UPF (r = 0.57, p value = 0.032 for men; and r = 0.53, p value = 0.061 for women). No associations with fibre intake or high BMI were observed.

Conclusion: Population-level UPFDs consumption substantially varied across Europe, although main contributors are similar. UPFDs consumption was not observed to be associated with country-level burden of high BMI, despite being related to a higher total sugar intake.

Keywords: Diet quality; Europe; Food consumption survey; NOVA classification; Ultra-processed foods.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diet
  • Energy Intake*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Fast Foods
  • Female
  • Food Handling*
  • Humans
  • Male

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