Impact of ultraprocessed foods on future adiposity

An investigation examines whether ultraprocessed foods are linked to worse adiposity trajectories than diets with less processed foods.

The dietary habits and patterns in childhood can have a lifelong impact on a person’s adiposity trajectory. An investigation in JAMA Pediatrics looked at whether a diet that has ultraprocessed foods, which typically have additives as well as poor nutritional components, was tied to a worse adiposity trajectory.1

The investigators performed a prospective birth cohort study that included children who had participated in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The participants, who were 7 to 24 years of age at baseline, were followed up from September 1998 to October 2017. A 3-day food diary was used to note the baseline dietary intake data. A child’s consumption of ultraprocessed foods was calculated as a percent of contribution in total daily food intake and was then categorized in quintiles.

There were 9025 children who were followed up for a median of 10.2 years. At baseline, the average ultraprocessed food consumption was 23.2% (5.0%) in quintile 1, 34.7% (2.5%) in quintile 2, 43.4% (2.5%) in quintile 3, 52.7% (2.8%) in quintile 4, and 67.8% (8.1%) in quintile 5. The diets in quintile 1 mostly consisted of foods that were minimally processed such as water and tea (22.2%), milk and plain yogurt (20.2%), and fruit (6.0%), whereas the diets of children in quintile 5 included fruit-based beverages (22.2%), carbonated beverages (11.5%), ready-to-eat/heat foods (8.6%), and industrial-processed breads and buns (5.9%). Among the children in the highest quintiles, the trajectories of body mass index increased by an additional 0.06 (95% CI, 0.04-0.08) per year; fat mass index, by an additional 0.03 (95% CI, 0.01-0.05) per year; weight, by an additional 0.20 (95% CI, 0.11-0.28) kg per year; and waist circumference, by an additional 0.17 (95% CI, 0.11-0.22) cm per year, when compared to the lowest quintile people.

The investigators concluded that higher consumption of ultraprocessed foods appears to be liked to greater increase in adiposity. They believe that public health measures to promote minimally processed foods as well as discouraging ultraprocessed consumption should be created and clinicians should do the same in well-child visits.


1. Chang K, Khandpur N, Neri D, et al. Association between childhood consumption of ultraprocessed food and adiposity trajectories in the Avon longitudinal study of parents and children birth cohort. JAMA Pediatr. June 14, 2021. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.1573