Recent study calls for the need to warn consumers on ultra-processed foods’ harmful effects

13 January 2022

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are foods that have been chemically or physically transformed through industrial processing. While most modern foods are processed in some way (e.g. raw rice packaged into dried rice, pasteurised milk), UPFs are recognisable for no longer serving the purpose of solely preserving food but rather to make ready-to-eat, convenient products with long shelf-lives and which are liable to replace other foods. Chemical substances contained in UPFs (e.g. additives, flavours, emulsifiers, and colour) have notably been correlated with serious health consequences, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, depression, … 

A recent study has looked into public perception of UPFs in Colombia and Brazil and found that, while people are not familiar with the term, they recognise these products as harmful. However, the research revealed that ultra-processed foods are also associated with positive emotions, such as satisfying cravings, tasty food, family, and social gatherings. The study suggests that these feelings may be the result of widespread persuasive marketing of ultra-processed foods by the food industry. The research highlights how particularly worrying these findings are in the light of evidence on the lack of public awareness on UPF’s associated health risks. 

The study notably calls for governments’ implementation of effective strategies to decrease global consumption of these unhealthy products and enable healthier choices. To this aim, two strategies are suggested: 1) to acknowledge ultra-processed foods as vectors for serious diseases; 2) to introduce front-of-package warning labels signalling ultra-processed foods — a system already in place in some countries in Latin America in order to signal critical nutrients (e.g. saturated fat, salt sugars).

SAFE welcomes this study, having taken action to raise awareness on the issue by: