Daily consumption of ultra-processed foods like pre-packaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza, and ready-to-eat meals can kill you early in life, and according to new research, consumption of such foods was associated with more than 10 percent of all-cause premature, preventable deaths in Brazil in 2019.

Although Brazilians consume far less of these products than countries with high incomes, consumption of ultra-processed foods containing little or no whole foods in their ingredients contributed to 57,000 premature deaths in Brazil in 2019, investigators report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Such ready-to-eat-or-heat industrial formulations made with ingredients extracted from foods or synthesized in laboratories have gradually been replacing traditional foods and meals made from fresh and minimally processed ingredients in many countries.

“Previous modeling studies have estimated the health and economic burden of critical ingredients, such as sodium, sugar, and trans fats, and specific foods or drinks, such as sugar-sweetened beverages,” explained lead investigator, Eduardo A.F. Nilson, from the University of Sao Paulo and Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Brazil.

“To our knowledge, no study to date has estimated the potential impact of ultra-processed foods on premature deaths. Knowing the deaths attributable to the consumption of these foods and modeling how changes in dietary patterns can support more effective food policies might prevent disease and premature deaths,” said Nilson.

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Examples of ultra-processed foods are pre-packaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza, ready-to-eat meals, hot dogs, sausages, sodas, ice cream, and store-bought cookies, cakes, candies, and doughnuts.

Across all age groups and sex strata, consumption of ultra-processed foods ranged from 13 percent to 21 percent of total food intake in Brazil during the period studied.

A total of 5,41,260 adults aged 30 to 69 died prematurely in 2019, of whom 2,61,061 were from preventable, non-communicable diseases.

The model found that approximately 57,000 deaths that year could be attributed to the consumption of ultra-processed foods, which corresponded to 10.5 percent of all premature deaths and 21.8 percent of all deaths from preventable noncommunicable diseases in adults aged 30 to 69.

The investigators suggested that in high-income countries such as the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia, where ultra-processed foods account for more than half of total caloric intake, the estimated impact would be even higher.

Reducing the consumption of ultra-processed foods and promoting healthier food choices may require multiple interventions and public health measures.

“Consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with many disease outcomes, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers, and other diseases, and it represents a significant cause of preventable and premature deaths among Brazilian adults,” said Nilson.