Ultra-processed Food Consumption and Obesity in the UK

Sarfaroj Khan 


October 22, 2020


  • Diets rich in ultra-processed foods were associated with a 79% and 30% significant increase in the risk of obesity and abdominal obesity, respectively.

  • The risk of gain in body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC) and percentage of body fat (%BF) of ≥5% was greater with higher consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Why this matters

  • Policymakers should consider actions that encourage consumption of fresh or minimally processed foods and lower consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Study design

  • This prospective study included 22,659 participants (age, 40-69 years) from the UK Biobank (2006-2019); median follow-up period: 5 years.

  • The consumption of ultra-processed foods (identified using the NOVA classification) was estimated based on the first 24-hour dietary recall of each participant.

  • Repeated measures of adiposity—BMI, WC and %BF—were evaluated.

  • Funding: Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo.

Key results

  • A total of 947 cases of overall obesity (BMI, ≥30 kg/m2) and 1900 cases of abdominal obesity (men: WC, ≥102 cm, women: WC, ≥88 cm) were reported.

  • Participants in the highest quartile of ultra-processed food consumption vs those in the lowest quartile of consumption had a significantly increased risk of developing overall obesity (adjusted HR [aHR], 1.79; 95% CI, 1.06-3.03) and abdominal obesity (aHR, 1.30; 95% CI, 1.14-1.48).

  • Participants in the highest quartile of ultra-processed food consumption were at a greater risk of having ≥5% increase in:

    • BMI (aHR, 1.31; 95% CI, 1.20-1.43);

    • WC (aHR, 1.35; 95% CI, 1.25-1.45); and

    • %BF (aHR, 1.14; 95% CI, 1.03-1.25).


  • Study included participants who were older and less likely to be obese and thus may have underestimated the association.

  • High number of participants were lost to follow-up.


Rauber F, Chang K, Vamos EP, da Costa Louzada ML, Monteiro CA, Millett C, Levy RB.  Ultra-processed food consumption and risk of obesity: a prospective cohort study of UK Biobank. Eur J Nutr. 2020 Oct 18 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1007/s00394-020-02367-1. PMID: 33070213 View full text


This clinical summary originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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