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Ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: from global food systems to individual exposures and mechanisms

Abstract

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) have become increasingly dominant globally, contributing to as much as 60% of total daily energy intake in some settings. Epidemiological evidence suggests this worldwide shift in food processing may partly be responsible for the global obesity epidemic and chronic disease burden. However, prospective studies examining the association between UPF consumption and cancer outcomes are limited. Available evidence suggests that UPFs may increase cancer risk via their obesogenic properties as well as through exposure to potentially carcinogenic compounds such as certain food additives and neoformed processing contaminants. We identify priority areas for future research and policy implications, including improved understanding of the potential dual harms of UPFs on the environment and cancer risk. The prevention of cancers related to the consumption of UPFs could be tackled using different strategies, including behaviour change interventions among consumers as well as bolder public health policies needed to improve food environments.

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Funding

This work was supported by Cancer Research UK [Ref: C33493/A29678] and World Cancer Research Fund International [Ref: IIG_FULL_2020_033].

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NK, AAN and IH conceived the content of the paper and wrote the paper. EPV, MT, EKG, MJG and CM critically reviewed it.

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Correspondence to Inge Huybrechts.

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Kliemann, N., Al Nahas, A., Vamos, E.P. et al. Ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: from global food systems to individual exposures and mechanisms. Br J Cancer 127, 14–20 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41416-022-01749-y

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