The latest cross-sectional analysis spans over 2 decades of over 33,795 U.S. children and adolescents, found that the consumption of ultra-processed food jumped from 61 percent (in 1999) to 67 percent (in 2018). The study was conducted by Dr. Lu Wang, of Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, and colleagues.
Zhang told in an interview that, “Although such a finding is not completely surprising, it is a high proportion that is worthy of attention.”
Ultra-processed foods by definition are pre-made, ready-to-eat, or ready-to-heat food, composed of refined substances with the addition of additives and a very small amount of whole foods. These foods are high in sugars, trans fats, sodium, and starch, while at the same time, they are low in proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fibers. The example of such foods are sweetened cereals, flavored potato chips, energy drinks, etc.
A major jump in the number of calories consumed from ready-to-eat ultra-processed foods like pizzas, and sandwiches, etc, was seen in the year 2018. It when this noticeable trend has become popular, as per the study published in JAMA. Total calories consumed from such foods rose from 2.2% to 11.2%. While the consumption of confectionery items like sweets snacks, desserts, candy, cereals, increased from 10.7% to 12.9%.
Interestingly they noticed that the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages slashed from 10.8% to 5.3% but according to the author, “While we have achieved successes in reducing sugar-sweetened beverages consumed by children, there has been an increasing trend in the consumption of calories from ultra-processed sweet snacks and desserts, which are the second-largest source of added sugar in children’s diets.
Wang said, “We need to identify and evaluate strategies to reduce the amount of added sugars consumed from sweet snacks and desserts by U.S. children and adolescents.”
There has been a dip in the consumption of processed fats, oils, sauces, and condiments from 7.1% to 4.1%. the changes in certain food categories like grain foods, savory snacks, fast food, and dairy foods weren’t significant. The Black and Mexican-American youth were fund to consume more ultra-processed food in comparison to the Hispanic White youth. But there hasn’t been any link between the parental education levels and income with the amount of ultra-processed food consumption by kids.
The author states that “This is different from the dietary disparities by socioeconomic status usually found for other dietary factors, suggesting that the ultra-processed food consumption is pervasive in children’s diets.” “Food processing is an often-overlooked dimension in nutrition research,” says Wang. “We may need to consider that ultra-processing of some foods may be associated with health risks, independent of the poor nutrient profile of ultra-processed foods generally.”