Teenagers who regularly eat ultra-processed foods are more likely to make unhealthy diet choices compared to those who eat less of these foods, latest evidence has suggested.
Research presented at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension Scientific Sessions has identified a link between bad eating habits and certain ultra-processed foods, such as pastries, sweets and frozen desserts.
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First author Maria Balhara, who is also 16-years-old, said: “Ultra-processed foods are designed to be hyper-palatable, or engineered to be as addictive as possible.
“They’re also cheap and convenient, which makes them hard to resist. Most people are eating too many of these foods without realising it.”
During the two-month-long experiment, more than 300 adolescents filled in diet questionnaires to detail their ultra-processed food intake.
Ultra-processed foods that were used in the experiment included chips, pastries, frozen desserts, white bread, processed meat, chocolate, cookies, sweets, smoothies, energy drinks, soda and syrup-sweetened coffee or tea.
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The participants who regularly ate sweets increased their overall ultra-processed food intake by 31%, the results have identified.
An increased consumption of pastries and frozen desserts was also associated with around a 10% increase in consumption of all other ultra-processed foods, according to the findings.
Balhara said: “For teenagers whose consumption of ultra-processed foods has not yet been established, certain gateway foods such as candy, store-bought pastries and frozen desserts should be avoided, since increased consumption of these foods appears to lead to increased consumption of other processed foods.
“The good news is that even small changes, such as reducing how often you eat a few gateway foods, may reduce overall consumption of unhealthy foods and have a big impact on your overall health.”
Fellow academic Dr Donna K. Arnett said: “I commend Ms. Balhara for her project, which highlights the importance of establishing good dietary patterns early in life.
“The relationship between poor dietary quality and cardiovascular risk factors is well-established.”
She added: “While there is a small, preliminary study, it’s an important topic to continue to investigate and help us understand ways we can influence dietary behaviours to promote optimal cardiovascular health for all ages.”