Exploring the Negative Impacts of Ultra-Processed Products and Policy Pathways Forward
The Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) strives to showcase leading minds and feature perspectives on global health issues free from conflict of interest. This is why our recent virtual session on October 5th, "Ultra-Processed Products Webinar: Latest Evidence and Policy Implications with Dr. Carlos Monteiro," raised positions that are sorely needed on this important topic.
Dr. Carlos Monteiro is a distinguished Professor of Nutrition and Health at the University of São Paulo and one of the leading minds behind exposing the negative aspects of ultra-processed products (UPPs). He offered valuable insights on the impact of UPPs on health and the environment and what policies can mitigate worrying trends. Here are five key takeaways from his presentation:
- Understanding UPPs: The NOVA classification system, which Dr. Monteiro’s team developed and is now widely used, separates foods and beverages into four categories, ranging from unprocessed or minimally processed foods to UPPs, based upon the industrial processes they undergo in their production. This classification system can be an effective tool for governments to inform healthy food policies.
- Harmful Effects on Health: There are adverse health outcomes associated with the increased consumption of UPPs and a growing body of evidence confirms this. Data proves this relationship, particularly regarding obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, among other chronic diseases.
- Changing Dietary Patterns: UPPs have ushered in a transformation in dietary habits across the world. While high-income countries have witnessed a more pronounced integration of UPPs into diets, there's a rapidly emerging trend in low and middle-income countries. These changing eating habits can displace traditional, culturally significant foods, affecting dietary diversity and cultural heritage. Simultaneously, they contribute to an increased intake of calories, sugar, saturated fat, sodium and potentially harmful additives like sweeteners, flavorings, emulsifiers and colorings.
- Environmental Impact: Beyond personal health, there are broader implications such as environmental consequences. The immense amount of plastic produced to package UPPs has a negative environmental impact in generating carbon emissions and polluting ecosystems. There is also a growing body of evidence showing how increased UPP production and consumption leads to decreased agrobiodiversity, due to the few varieties of high-yield crops, such as soybeans, corn, wheat and sugar cane, used to produce these products.
- Policy Implications: Policy strategies are essential to tackle the growing prevalence of UPPs in diets. The tobacco control movement can serve as a blueprint for success in regulating products that are both harmful and have no benefits for human health. Policy prescriptions will vary by geography and how far along a country is in its transition to higher UPP consumption. Mass media campaigns on the health consequences of UPPs, marketing restrictions, front-of-package warning labels, bans on UPP sales and promotion in schools, UPP taxes and healthy food subsidies are key tools for governments to raise awareness and curb this growing public health crisis.
The growing evidence correlating increased UPP consumption and displacement of traditional diets to the sharp rise of diet-related non-communicable diseases across the world demands action. UPPs are widely available and inexpensive due to large-scale production and cheap ingredients, selling convenience but bringing negative health impacts, especially to vulnerable populations. GHAI remains committed to helping local partners advance healthy food policies to curb this trend and ensure everyone has the right to access nutritious food.
Veronica Schoj, GHAI’s Vice President for Food and Nutrition Policy, emphasizes the urgency of the situation, stating, "Now, more than ever, we must vigorously advocate for evidence-based healthy food policies to combat the UPP public health crisis. From implementing marketing restrictions to reforming school food programs, from prominent warning labels to impactful taxes, we have an array of policies at our disposal to halt the proliferation of these unhealthy products and at the same increase the access to nutritious foods for all, especially the most vulnerable. Our commitment is unwavering, and we are dedicated to ensuring these policies are enacted without any undue influence from the food and beverage industry."
Watch the Recording
If you missed this informative event, the recording of the webinar is now available for you to watch at your convenience in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Simply click below to access the recording in your preferred language.
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