Is ultra-processed food addictive for children?

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / IPGGutenbergUKLtd
© Getty Images / IPGGutenbergUKLtd
In a small cohort of overweight children, almost 25% were diagnosed with food addition, says a new study from Brazil. Among the factors associated with this diagnosis was a higher consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Ninety-fiver percent of the 139 overweight children assessed in the study had at least one of the seven symptoms of food addiction, according to data published recently in Appetite​.

“The present study provides evidence that frequent consumption of UPFs [ultra-processed foods] are associated with food addiction in overweight children,” ​wrote scientists from the Federal University of São Paulo.

“In the sample of Brazilian children studied, the UPF foods positively associated with FA were cookies/biscuits and sausages. These findings show that food addiction is present in overweight young children and, for this reason, has important social, clinical, and public health implication.”

Ultra-processed foods

The 2014 Brazilian Dietary Guidelines recommend the public to avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are characterized as foods that have been modified to result in enhanced amounts of salt, sugar, and fat as well as the use of additives to boost the palatability of the foods.

“With this change in the global food supply and the increasing incidence of childhood obesity, it is essential to study the possible types of foods that may be associated with addictive behaviors in order to help prevent and treat obesity,”​ explained the authors of the new study.

“At the moment, to our knowledge, no study has explored the association between the diagnosis of food addiction in overweight children and the types of food, especially UPF.”

Study details

Led by Andrea Rocha Filgueiras, the researchers assessed dietary intakes for children aged between 9 and 11 from two low-income public schools in the city of São Paulo. The Yale Food Addiction Scale for Children was also used to assess food addiction.

The results showed that higher consumption of UPFs tended to be associated with a food addiction.

In addition, consumption of cookies/biscuits and sausages were independently associated with food addiction, said the researchers.

“The identification of foods that may be associated with addictive behavior is very important for correctly treating and preventing childhood obesity, which continues to be one of the greatest health problems in the world,” ​they concluded.

When the Brazilian Dietary Guidelines were released in 2014, renowned food policy expert Prof Marion Nestle described them as “remarkable” in a blog post on Food Politics​. “Now if only our [U.S.] Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee would take note and do the same,” ​she wrote.

Brazil plate small © Getty Images  Tonygers
© Getty Images / Tonygers

The 10 steps to healthy diets (from the FAO’s Food-based dietary guidelines – Brazil​):

1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet

2. Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations

3. Limit consumption of processed foods

4. Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods

5. Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company

6. Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods

7. Develop, exercise and share cooking skills

8. Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life

9. Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals

10. Be wary of food advertising and marketing

Source: Appetite
April 2019, Volume 135, Pages 137-145, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.11.005
“Exploring the consumption of ultra-processed foods and its association with food addiction in overweight children”
Authors: A. Rocha Filgueiras et al.



Related news