FoodWarnings on ultra-processed food: A public health necessity

Warnings on ultra-processed food: A public health necessity

Brazilian professor sharply criticises ultra-processed food
Brazilian professor sharply criticises ultra-processed food
Images source: © Adobe Stock | Анастасия Бурлакова

5 July 2024 10:57

Should highly processed products contain information about the effects of consuming them? And can such food items be considered as harmful as cigarettes? According to Professor Carlos Augusto Monteiro, the answer is yes. He holds an obvious opinion on this matter.

Professor Carlos Augusto Monteiro is a Brazilian epidemiologist specialising in preventive medicine, lifestyle diseases, and the impact of food on the human body. He became renowned in the medical world as the term 'ultra-processed food' creator. Which food products does this term refer to? According to the professor, what bans and restrictions should be applied to them? More on that below.

Famous doctor on ultra-processed food

Carlos Augusto Monteiro's research created a new classification of food products regarding their processing levels. In this classification — called the Nova classification — there are four levels of human intervention in the preparation process of a given product:

  1. Unprocessed or minimally processed food
  2. Processed culinary ingredients
  3. Processed food
  4. Ultra-processed food

The creator of this last term was indeed the Brazilian epidemiologist. The doctor observed that there is increasing prevalence of this type of food in the world, and we are not sufficiently informed about the effects of consuming it. Meanwhile, such a high level of processing translates into numerous diseases, ranging from obesity, diabetes, and heart diseases to deadly cancers. According to a study published in February 2024 in the journal "BMJ", as many as 32 health consequences are associated with ultra-processed food.

The professor calls for labelling highly processed food

According to Carlos Monteiro, counteracting (and preventing) the effects of excessive consumption of ultra-processed food is our moral duty. The Brazilian specialist has several ideas for addressing this issue: public health campaigns, removing sales from schools and hospitals, high taxation, banning or heavily restricting advertisements, and, most importantly, warnings on packaging similar to those used for cigarettes.

Should crisps and sweets be labelled in the same way as cigarettes?
Should crisps and sweets be labelled in the same way as cigarettes?© Canva | Eric Mclean

Maybe you still have doubts about what precisely ultra-processed food is. To clarify, let's give the floor to Professor Monteiro himself. In his work "Nutrition and health. The issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing," he wrote:

Ultra-processed foods are basically confections of group 2 ingredients, typically combined with sophisti- cated use of additives, to make them edible, palatable, and habit-forming. They have no real resemblance to group 1 foods, although they may be shaped, labelled and marketed so as to seem wholesome and 'fresh'.
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