Ultra-processed products are becoming dominant in the global food system

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Summary

The relationship between the global food system and the worldwide rapid increase of obesity and related diseases is not yet well understood. A reason is that the full impact of industrialized food processing on dietary patterns, including the environments of eating and drinking, remains overlooked and underestimated. Many forms of food processing are beneficial. But what is identified and defined here as ultra-processing, a type of process that has become increasingly dominant, at first in high-income countries, and now in middle-income countries, creates attractive, hyper-palatable, cheap, ready-to-consume food products that are characteristically energy-dense, fatty, sugary or salty and generally obesogenic. In this study, the scale of change in purchase and sales of ultra-processed products is examined and the context and implications are discussed. Data come from 79 high- and middle-income countries, with special attention to Canada and Brazil. Results show that ultra-processed products dominate the food supplies of high-income countries, and that their consumption is now rapidly increasing in middle-income countries. It is proposed here that the main driving force now shaping the global food system is transnational food manufacturing, retailing and fast food service corporations whose businesses are based on very profitable, heavily promoted ultra-processed products, many in snack form.

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