Ultra-Processed Food Consumption and Mental Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies

Nutrients. 2022 Jun 21;14(13):2568. doi: 10.3390/nu14132568.

Abstract

Since previous meta-analyses, which were limited only to depression and by a small number of studies available for inclusion at the time of publication, several additional studies have been published assessing the link between ultra-processed food consumption and depression as well as other mental disorders. We aimed to build on previously conducted reviews to synthesise and meta-analyse the contemporary evidence base and clarify the associations between the consumption of ultra-processed food and mental disorders. A total of 17 observational studies were included (n = 385,541); 15 cross-sectional and 2 prospective. Greater ultra-processed food consumption was cross-sectionally associated with increased odds of depressive and anxiety symptoms, both when these outcomes were assessed together (common mental disorder symptoms odds ratio: 1.53, 95%CI 1.43 to 1.63) as well as separately (depressive symptoms odds ratio: 1.44, 95%CI 1.14 to 1.82; and, anxiety symptoms odds ratio: 1.48, 95%CI 1.37 to 1.59). Furthermore, a meta-analysis of prospective studies demonstrated that greater ultra-processed food intake was associated with increased risk of subsequent depression (hazard ratio: 1.22, 95%CI 1.16 to 1.28). While we found evidence for associations between ultra-processed food consumption and adverse mental health, further rigorously designed prospective and experimental studies are needed to better understand causal pathways.

Keywords: NOVA; anxiety; major depressive disorder; mental disorders; meta-analysis; nutritional psychiatry; psychiatry; ultra-processed food.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Fast Foods* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Prospective Studies

Grant support

This research received no external funding.