The BNF’s comments followed the publication of a new report from the Imperial College London, which found that children were consuming ‘exceptionally high’ proportions of ultra-processed foods, increasing their risk of obesity and damaging their health.
Researchers found that ultra-processed foods made up a considerably high proportion of children’s diets – more than 40% of intake in grams and more than 60% of calories on average.
Christopher Millett, National Institute for Health Research Professor of Public Health at Imperial College London, said: “We often ask why obesity rates are so high among British children and this study provides a window into this. Our findings show that an exceptionally high proportion of their diet is made up of ultra-processed foods, with one in five children consuming 78% of their calories from ultra-processed foods.
Lack of regulation
“Through a lack of regulation and enabling the low cost and ready availability of these foods, we are damaging our children’s long-term health. We urgently need effective policy change to redress the balance, to protect the health of children and reduce the proportion of these foods in their diet.”
Commening on the research, the British Nutrition foundation (BNF) said the results were interesting, but people needed to be made aware of some of the complications of making links between ultra-processed foods and health outcomes.
“It’s likely that a diet with a very high proportion of ultra-processed foods will be a less healthy diet overall, as many of these foods are high in fat, salt and sugar and will be calorie dense,” said a BNF nutrition communications manager Bridget Benelam.
“But we also know there is a link between low incomes and obesity and children in the most deprived areas in this study had also had the highest intakes of ultra-processed foods.”
While Benelam acknowledged that many high in fat, salt and sugar foods could be classed as ultra-processed, the same could be said about products that most consumers perceive as being healthier choices.
“The ultra-processed definition also includes foods that can be included part of a healthy diet – such as wholemeal sliced bread, low fat, lower sugar yogurts, wholegrain breakfast cereals, fish fingers, or baked beans – that can contribute important nutrients to the diet,” she added.
“So, it’s important not to demonise foods based solely on processing and look at their nutrition content, in line with evidence-based healthy eating advice.”