The case against ultra-processed food: 'UPF is designed to increase consumption and profit'

The category of ultra-processed food, most prominently defined by the Nova classification, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months, with many critics suggesting that ‘ultra-processed’ does not necessarily lead to poor health outcomes, at least definitionally.

However, previous research studies have suggested many poor health outcomes are linked to food, such as high type-2 diabetes rates, high rates of hypertension and muscular skeletal problems, and an increasing number of people living with obesity (in 2019, 53% of the EU was obese).

The link between diet and poor health outcomes, believe medical doctor and author Chris van Tulleken and Henry Dimbleby, former non-executive board member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in the UK Government and the author of its National Food Strategy (which it ignored​), is a food industry driven by the commercial incentive to produce ultra-processed foods, which they say are designed to drive excess food consumption and lead to poor health outcomes.

“We have evidence that there is a single category of diet that drives harm, and that is American industrialised diet produced by transnational food corporations,” suggested van Tulleken at The House of Lords Committee on Food, Diet and Obesity in London yesterday.

What is ultra-processed food?

“If a food is wrapped in plastic and has at least one ingredient that you don’t find in a domestic kitchen, then it’s probably an ultra-processed food,” said van Tulleken. “If you’re reading an ingredients list, you’re probably looking at an ultra-processed food.