Brazil: Study points to high prevalence of 'ultra-processed' foods consumption among infants

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

 © GettyImages / shironosov
© GettyImages / shironosov

Related tags processed food Brazil Infant nutrition

New research shows many infants (between 6 and 12 months) who are transitioning off of breast milk are regularly receiving "ultra-processed" foods as some of their first introduction to solid foods.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the introduction of "complementary feeding"​ (the transition from exclusive breastfeeding to family foods) beginning at 6-months-old, and that infants should be introduced to a variety of unprocessed foods on a "timely"​ and "adequate"​ basis. 

"The first two years of life represent a window of opportunity for infants to learn, accept, and like healthy foods as well as to establish long-term healthy dietary patterns,"​ wrote researchers in the study. 

However, a recent study by Brazilian researchers published in the Jornal de Pediat​ria​, found high consumption of processed foods among children 1-year-old and younger during this complementary feeding phase. A recent national survey​ also found that 70% of the Brazilian children between 9 and 12 months consumed some type of processed foods on the day before the survey.

"Even though some studies have investigated the determinants for inadequate complementary feeding practices among children, there is a lack of studies exploring factors associated with consumption of ultra-processed foods in infants specifically in the context of primary healthcare,"​ wrote researchers.


Researchers interviewed 198 mothers of children between the ages of 6 and 12 months across 13 urban primary healthcare units located within the Sao Paulo, Brazil, metropolitan area. Participants were interviewed about specific foods their child consumed in the previous 24 hours via 'yes' or 'no' questionnaire asking about consumption of different foods groups such as fruits; vegetables; rice, pasta, potatoes, beans, meat, breast milk,other milk and dairy products, and ultra-processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods were defined by Brazil's new food and dietary classification system, which defines ultra-processed foods as food and beverage products made of mainly or solely "industrial ingredients", such as processed meat, biscuits, packaged snacks, soft drinks, and instant noodles. 

Researchers recorded 181 responses from the questionnaire, and found that the prevalence of ultra-processed food intake was 43.1% with the highest prevalence of consumption being sandwich cookies / chocolates / candies (21.8%), followed by sugary beverages (20.0%) and instant noodles / chips / savory biscuits (18.5%). Infants that were not being breastfed had a higher prevalence of ultra-processed food intake but no statistical significance was found.


"Our study showed that higher maternal education and better performance of primary healthcare units decrease ultra-processed food intake among children under 1 year of age,"​ noted researchers who added that the study confirms a need for a push to incorporate the Brazilian Food and Nutrition Surveillance System (SISVAN) as a routine practice in primary healthcare.

"Healthcare professional counseling has a key role in listening and understanding the factors that influence mothers during the transition to child complementary feeding.... way forward is to strengthen the implementation of the national policy 'Breastfeeding and Feeding Strategy Brazil', which aims to promote continuing education for health professionals on breastfeeding and complementary feeding in primary health settings."

Source: Journal of Pediatrics

"Consumption of ultra -processedfoods among children under one year of age in primary health care in a city in the metropolitan region of São Paulo, Brazil"

Published online ahead of print,

Authors: Gláubia Rocha Barbosa,Gabriela dos Santos Buccini, Sonia Isoyama Venancio,et al

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