Ultra-processed food that is linked to poor health outcomes should carry a warning similar to those on cigarette packs, a number of MPs have said.

Ultra-processed foods contain high levels of added fat, sugar and salt, are low in protein and fibre and contain artificial colourings, sweeteners and preservatives.

Ready meals, fizzy drinks and ice cream are popular examples of ultra-processed foods, but they are typically defined as foods which contain ingredients that people would not add when cooking at home.

Sir Greg Knight, a former Conservative minister, said: “There’s a case for looking again at our food-labelling laws and perhaps requiring ultra-processed food to carry a health warning, rather like we require cigarette packets to have to display such a warning.

“If we are to urge that ultra-processed food carries with it a label warning, that warning should be in a typeface large enough to be read without the use of a magnifying glass, so people know what it is they’re buying before they purchase it.”

Carol Monaghan, a SNP MP, added: “One of the issues with ultra-processed food is that it’s also ultra-addictive and then people want to have more of it, and we can’t help ourselves, but we don’t treat it like other ultra-addictive things like cigarettes and alcohol.

“The health implications could be just as serious. Is it time we do that?”

When opening the debate in Westminster Hall, Conservative MP Suzanne Webb, explained: “Ultra-processed food is food that tends to be high in fat, salt and sugar – food which is highly addictive.

“Awareness of what is ultra-processed food is actually fairly low but they are familiar foods in your shopping trolley.”

She continued: “They include pizza, ice cream, crisps, mass-produced bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, carbonated drinks, fruit-flavoured yogurts, pre-packaged meals, sausages and other reconstituted meat products and some alcoholic drinks – including whisky, gin and rum.”

Although the MP for Stourbridge acknowledged the cost of living crisis, she said she is disappointed that the government has delayed the planned ban on two-for-one junk food deals, saying: “The food supply chain is, quite frankly, endorsing and promoting products that are linked to serious health outcomes.

“A good step forward would be to see an advertising watershed. Current advertising regulations are not going far enough to protect children from seeing a significant amount of unhealthy food adverts.”

Last year, researchers in China found that a diet heavily involving ultra-processed foods is linked to developing dementia.

The researchers found an association between ultra-processed foods and dementia in 70,000 middle-aged people after studying them for ten years. They discovered that the foods cause a build-up of cholesterol due to high fat content and restrict blood flow to the brain.

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