Should ‘ultra-processed’ foods include health warnings?
New research on the devastating health effects of ultra-processed foods has some saying yes.
- A growing body of research, including two recent studies, shows how ultra-processed foods can lead to multiple diseases and shorten lifespan.
- Ultra-processed foods include soft drinks, packaged snacks, reconstituted meat, pre-prepared frozen meals, and more.
- Other research suggests that warning labels on food can affect what people choose to eat.
The U.S. government requires sellers of cigarettes and alcohol to include health warnings on the labels of their products. Should vendors of "ultra-processed foods" be required to do the same? New research has some saying yes.
This week, the BMJ published a pair of studies that show how diets high in ultra-processed foods are linked to significantly higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and death. The findings build upon decades worth of evidence showing that processed foods can be devastating to long-term health.
In the four groups that make up the NOVA food classification system, ultra-processed foods are ranked as the unhealthiest. They include "soft drinks, packaged snacks, reconstituted meat, pre-prepared frozen meals," with ingredients like "sweeteners, colors, preservatives, and food-derived substances like casein, lactose and gluten."
These foods are unhealthy not only because they contain bad ingredients or lack nutrients, but also because they undergo processes like extrusion, molding, and milling.
"The nature of the cause is associated with the physical and chemical changes that happen to the food as a result of this high degree of industrial processing," Mark Lawrence, who co-wrote an editorial on the pair of recent studies, told Australia's ABC News. "It's an independent risk factor irrespective of the presence of, say, sodium or added sugar in the food."
Lawrence said the recent studies, along with the solid body of research on ultra-processed foods, have multiple implications for policy.
"I think the front of pack labelling is the most tangible one at the moment," Lawrence said. "It could be something as simple as, is this an ultra-processed food or not."
Junk food warnings
Would requiring makers of ultra-processed junk foods to include such labels on food be government overreach? Provided that you're okay with the warnings the U.S. government currently puts on tobacco and alcohol, there seems to be little reason why we shouldn't place the same labels on ultra-processed food. In fact, there may even be more reason to include warnings on junk food, as noted by David Katz for Time:
". . . unlike tobacco or alcohol, food is supposed to be good for us. It is supposed to be sustenance, not sabotage. You can't smoke tobacco and avoid tobacco. You can't drink alcohol and avoid alcohol. But you can eat food and avoid junk. There is, in fact, an impressive range of overall nutritional quality in almost every food category — so we could abandon junk food altogether, and quickly learn not to miss it."
There's some reason to think junk-food warning labels would be effective in affecting what people choose to eat. In a 2018 study from the University of Melbourne, researchers found that warning labels — particularly graphic, negative warnings — encouraged people to exercise self-control when selecting meals.
"We can really see a signature of deploying this self-control to resist unhealthy choices," study co-author Stefan Bode of the University of Melbourne told Australia's ABC News. "This is something we're really excited about to follow up and see how this happens."
- Ultra-processed food link to disease and death grows — so do we ... ›
- Cancer warning over processed foods that make up half of UK diet ›
Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen discusses whether our society should always defend free speech rights, even for groups who would oppose such rights.
- Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen understands that protecting free speech rights isn't always a straightforward proposition.
- In this video, Strossen describes the reasoning behind why the ACLU defended the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois, 1977.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Want to be smarter than you were yesterday? Learn to have better conversations using these 3 design principles.
- What is a great conversation? They are the ones that leave us feeling smarter or more curious, with a sense that we have discovered something, understood something about another person, or have been challenged.
- There are 3 design principles that lead to great conversations: humility, critical thinking, and sympathetic listening.
- Critical thinking is the celebrated cornerstone of liberalism, but next time you're in a challenging and rewarding conversation, try to engage sympathetic listening too. Understanding why another intelligent person holds ideas that are at odds with your own is often more enlightening than merely hunting for logic errors.
A consortium of scientists and engineers have proposed that the U.S. and Mexico build a series of guarded solar, wind, natural gas and desalination facilities along the entirety of the border.
- The proposal was recently presented to several U.S. members of Congress.
- The plan still calls for border security, considering all of the facilities along the border would be guarded and connected by physical barriers.
- It's undoubtedly an expensive and complicated proposal, but the team argues that border regions are ideal spots for wind and solar energy, and that they could use the jobs and fresh water the energy park would create.
The reason one diet does not suit all may be found in our guts.