Ultra-Processed Food Consumption Linked to an Increased Risk of Diabetes

A heavy intake of ultra-processed food (UPF) is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D), according to the findings of a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Ultra-processed foods (UPF) are widespread in Western diets. Their consumption has been associated in recent prospective studies with increased risks of all-cause mortality and chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, and dyslipidemia, however, data regarding diabetes is lacking.

To conduct this population-based prospective cohort study, the researchers recruited 104,707 participants (79.2% women, 20.8% men) aged 18 years or older from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort. They gathered dietary intake data using repeated 24-hour dietary records that were developed to register participants’ usual consumption for more than 3,500 different food items. The researchers used the NOVA classification system to classify each food according to their degree of processing. The study’s key endpoint was defined as the associations between UPF consumption and risk of T2D. This outcome was measured using cause-specific multivariable Cox proportional hazard models adjusted for known risk factors such as sociodemographics, anthropometrics, lifestyle, medical history, and nutritional factors.

Time to Limit Intake

According to the results of the study, UPF consumption of was correlated with a higher risk of T2D (multi-adjusted hazard ratio [HR] for an absolute increment of 10 in the percentage of UPF in the diet, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.06 to 1.25; median follow-up, 6.0 years; 582,252 person-years; 821 incident cases). The researchers noted that the findings remained statistically significant after adjustment for several markers of the nutritional quality of the diet, for other metabolic comorbidities (HR=1.13; 95% CI, 1.03 to 1.23), and for weight change (HR=1.13; 95% CI, 1.01 to 1.27). They observed that the absolute amount of UPF consumption (measured in grams per day) was consistently associated with T2D risk, even when adjusting for unprocessed or minimally processed food intake (HR=1.05; 95% CI, 1.02 to 1.08).

The researchers wrote in a summation of their findings that: “In this large observational prospective study, a higher proportion of UPF in the diet was associated with a higher risk of T2D. Even though these results need to be confirmed in other populations and settings, they provide evidence to support efforts by public health authorities to recommend limiting UPF consumption.”