Ultra-Processed Food Makes Up Two-Thirds Of Children’s Diets
Almost two-thirds of calories eaten by British children come from ‘ultra-processed food,’ with kids eating worse foods found to be on average eight pounds heavier than other children, a study has found.
Researchers from Imperial College London said ultra-processed foods – defined as ‘food and drink formulations of multiple substances’ like chocolate, biscuits and ready made sauces – are consumed at worryingly high levels in the UK, and could be linked to higher rates of obesity as adults.
The study monitored the eating habits of 9,000 children in Bristol over a period of 13 years, and found an average of 65.4% of their daily calorie intake came from these ultra-processed foods.
One in five of the children consumed at least 78% of their calories through the unhealthy food products, with those who ate the most ultra-processed foods while growing up found to have a BMI score of 1.13 points higher, 1.53% higher body fat, and to weigh eight pounds (3.6kg) more than those who ate less processed food.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, says ultra-processed foods are ‘food and drink formulations of multiple substances, mostly of exclusive industrial use (e.g. high-fructose corn syrup), [which] are manufactured through a series of complex industrial processes (e.g. hydrogenation) and often contain cosmetic food additives (e.g. colours, flavours and emulsifiers) that disguise any undesirable sensorial properties of the final product.’
According to The Telegraph, the research is the first to explore a possible link between eating ultra-processed foods as a child and having a higher BMI later in life.
Dr Eszter Vamos, senior clinical lecturer in public health medicine at Imperial College London, who was involved in the study, said the results showed that childhood was a ‘critical time when food preferences and eating habits are formed with long-lasting effects on health.’
However the findings have received some push back from other academics, who say more research is needed into other factors influencing diet and weight during childhood.
Prof Gunter Kuhnle, professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Reading, said the study did not take into account socio-economic factors, with children from poorer backgrounds more likely to eat cheaper, ultra-processed food.
He told The Telegraph: ‘Children living in more deprived areas and from families with lower educational attainment and lower socio-economic status had the highest intake of ultra-processed foods.
‘Unfortunately, these children are also at highest risk of obesity and poor health, as there are still considerable health inequalities in the UK and socio-economic status is an important determinant of health.’
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