New study finds junk food and sugary drink consumption linked to increased health risks

29 Feb 2024

The study: Ultra-processed food exposure and adverse health outcomes: umbrella review of epidemiological meta-analyses

Packaged foods like baked goods, snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals and chicken nuggets are putting people’s health at risk with a new review linking consumption of ultra-processed foods with over 30 damaging health outcomes.   

Published in the BMJ today, the umbrella review shows that diets high in ultra-processed foods are linked with increased risks for chronic diseases like cancer, heart, lung conditions as well as mental health disorders. 

Comment on the study by Jane Martin, Executive Manager: 

Food for Health Alliance’s executive manager, Jane Martin said the study highlights a critical need to reduce consumption of ultra-processed foods which are industrially produced, often contain emulsifiers, flavours and other additives and can also be high in sugar, salt and fat. 

“This adds to the mounting evidence that ultra-processed foods are associated with significant health harms, when up to 42% of energy in the Australian diet is coming from this food category.” Ms Martin said. 

“Ultra-processed, nutrient-poor foods can displace healthier options in diets. These foods are packed with cheap ingredients, as well as being affordable, available and heavily promoted by an industry focussed on boosting profits at the expense of health.” 

“Our community expects governments to foster environments that protect health, especially for growing children. But too often industry’s vested interests delay and halt effective policy measures and initiatives that could make a significant difference to communities across Australia.  

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act (FSANZ Act), which plays a vital role in the food regulatory system, is currently being reviewed. 

“With the success of tobacco control measures leading to a decline in smoking rates, we need a strong regulatory framework that incentivises and promotes healthy foods, over ultra-processed packaged foods.  This review is an opportunity to help shape our food system to support healthy diets and to safeguard public health. A robust food regulatory system is essential, more equitable and can help deliver community-wide health improvements, reducing the ongoing chronic disease burden on individuals and protecting the health system,” Ms Martin said.  

“It’s critically important that we get the right frameworks and systems set up to create a society that supports Australians to be healthy. Shifting demand away from ultra-processed food, as well as favouring whole foods can be achieved through a health levy on sugary drinks, protecting children from unhealthy food marketing and improved labelling.”