SÃO PAULO, SP (FOLHAPRESS) – Two new studies reinforce the deleterious role to human health of diets with a high proportion of ultra-processed foods. The new studies, published in the scientific journal BMJ on Wednesday (31), show increased risks of colorectal cancer and deaths in populations with a high degree of consumption of this type of food.
One of the studies was carried out in the United States, with a follow-up of more than 20 years. The researchers analyzed how the quality of diet can impact cases of colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the world.
In the US, this topic is especially important, considering that about 57% of the calories consumed per day by adults in the country come from ultra-processed foods, which are rich in additives. The result of the consumption of these products is the alteration of the microbiota, greater risks of weight gain and increased risk of colorectal cancer.
The scientists used large databases of American healthcare professionals. The information starts in 1986 (in one of the repositories, in 1991). Altogether, data from 159,907 women and 46,341 men were analyzed.
According to the data collected, 1,294 cases of colorectal cancer were documented among men and 1,922 among women.
After adjusting the results for several variables (thus seeking to avoid confounding effects), the researchers concluded that, among the men observed, the slice with the highest consumption of ultra-processed foods had about a 29% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, compared to the slice that consumed the least of these products.
Scientists were able to observe these data because of detailed biannual questionnaires that were given to healthcare professionals.
In conclusion, the researchers say, “the study observed that high consumption of ultra-processed foods in men and certain groups of ultra-processed foods in men and women is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.”
The other study, also published Wednesday in the BMJ, looked at data from 22,895 people (mean age 55 years), obtained as part of a survey conducted in the Molise region of Italy. In addition, mortality data were collected from March 2005 to December 2019.
According to the researchers, high consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with higher risks of all-cause mortality, as well as a higher risk for deaths related to cardiovascular problems.
An editorial text from the BMJ magazine, signed by USP professor Carlos Augusto Monteiro -researcher who coined the term ultraprocessed- and scientist Geoffrey Cannon, accompanies the two studies.
According to Monteiro and Cannon, who cite several studies that show the risk brought by ultra-processed products, simple reformulations and changes of ingredients in these products are not the solution to their negative impact on people’s health.
“Reformulated ultra-processed foods would be especially problematic if they were touted as ‘healthy products’. They would remain partially, mainly or entirely as chemical formulations,” experts say.
Scientists make a parallel between ultra-processed products and tobacco and point out that no one sane can want food that is harmful to health. “Everyone needs food, but no one needs ultra-processed foods,” say Monteiro and Cannon.
The solution, according to the researchers, would be public policy actions, including food guides, to reduce the production and consumption of ultra-processed foods, in addition to regulating the promotion of this type of product.
In Brazil, in 2020, a technical note from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, sent to the Ministry of Health, sought to disqualify and reformulate the Food Guide for the Brazilian Population.
The guide, in general terms, provides guidelines that the choice of food is based on the Nova classification, which groups products by the degree of processing. According to the guide, the more processed the foods, the more they should be avoided, that is, it is a document that guides the consumption of healthy foods.
A recent Brazilian survey showed that the acquisition of ultra-processed products has increased in Brazil.
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