Kids who eat processed food had high body fat and blood sugar levels, study says


Ultra-processed foods increase cardiometabolic risk in children, study finds. — AFP

WITH their time savings, affordable prices and immediate availability, ultra-processed foods – which have been subject to high levels of processing via industrial products and various additives for taste, texture and shelf life – can have plenty of benefits in the eyes of many parents.

But what are the health risks for children, especially when these foods, rich in saturated fat, sugar and salt, are consumed during the first years of life? This is the question that a team of researchers from the Human Nutrition Unit at Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) in Tarragona, Spain, set out to answer.

To do so, they sought to assess the impact of ultra-processed foods on the health of around 1,500 girls and boys aged three to six from seven Spanish cities, including Córdoba, Barcelona, Valencia and Zaragoza.

For the study, carried out in collaboration with the Pere Virgili Health Research Institute (IISPV) and the Biomedical Research Networking Centre, the researchers examined data on participants’ consumption of ultra-processed foods along with various measurements such as body mass index, fat mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Lower levels of ‘good’ cholesterol

Published in the journal, JAMA Network Open, this research suggests an association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods in childhood and a deterioration in cardiometabolic health.

The scientists explain that children who consumed more of this type of food had the highest scores in terms of body mass index, waist circumference, body fat index and blood sugar levels. On the other hand, they had the lowest levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) in the blood.

In view of these findings, the scientists highlight “the urgency of addressing the problem of the overconsumption of these foods by children,” and call for public policies to prevent the risks associated with such diets.

“Our findings give cause for concern. Although the magnitude of the associations we found could be thought to be of limited clinical importance, ... there was a significant relationship between their consumption and these parameters,” says Nancy Babio, principal research of the study, quoted in a news release.

She adds: “It is essential to recognise the importance of early eating habits and their future implications on cardiometabolic health.”

The researchers go even further, suggesting that priority should be given to targeting the most vulnerable populations, as the study revealed that children of mothers with a lower level of education or a lower socio-economic profile generally consumed more ultra-processed foods, making them more susceptible to health problems.

This is not the first time these foods have been singled out by scientists. Early in May, research conducted on over 100,000 people revealed that this ultra-processed foods could increase the risk of premature death. Earlier research has suggested an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and even depression symptoms. – AFP Relaxnews

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