Junk food linked to higher risk of cancer, study says

Ultra-Processed Foods Could Cause Cancer, Researchers Say

It’s no secret junk food is bad for your health. In fact, too much of it can increase your risk of several diseases, including cancer, according to a new report.

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Researchers from health institutions in France recently conducted a study, published in the PLOS journal, to explore the link between cancer and foods that were labeled by the Nutrient Profiling System of the British Food Standards Agency (FSAm-NPS). The model is a five-tier scoring system, which uses colors and grades, to identify foods low or high in fat, saturated fat, salt or sugar. It has been in place in the United Kingdom since 2017 to help regulate food advertising. 

For the assessment, the scientists examined data collected from 471,495 participants from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. The participants provided information about their dietary habits and medical history, and they were followed for about 15 years.

After analyzing the results, they found that 49,794 of the subjects had been diagnosed with cancer, with 12,063 having breast cancer, 6,745 having prostate cancer and 5,806 having colorectal cancer.

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Upon further investigation, they discovered regular consumption of foods with low nutritional quality was associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer and cancer of the upper aerodigestive tract and stomach.

Women who ate foods with low nutritional value had a greater risk of being diagnosed with liver and postmenopausal breast cancer, and men who ate poorly had an increase risk of lung cancer.

"In this large multinational European cohort, participants with the highest FSAm-NPS DI scores, i.e., those consuming on average food products with a lower nutritional quality, were at higher risk of developing cancer overall," the authors wrote in the study.

Despite the results, the analysts did acknowledge their limitations. They said the data the evaluated was self-reported and may not have been fully accurate. However, they noted “this study was the first effort to investigate the association between the FSAm-NPS [Dietary Index] and disease in a large European cohort.”

They now hope their findings will encourage policy makers to implement better policies for food labeling.

“This [study],” they said, “supports the relevance of the FSAm-NPS as [an] underlying nutrient profiling system for front-of-pack nutrition labels, as well as for other public health nutritional measures.”

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