Public Health Nutrition

Research paper

Increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods and likely impact on human health: evidence from Brazil

Carlos Augusto Monteiroa1a2 c1, Renata Bertazzi Levya1a3, Rafael Moreira Claroa1, Inês Rugani Ribeiro de Castroa1a4 and Geoffrey Cannona5

a1 Núcleo de Pesquisas Epidemiológicas em Nutrição e Saúde, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brasil

a2 Departamento de Nutrição, Faculdade de Saúde Pública, Universidade de São Paulo, Av. Dr. Arnaldo 715, 01246-904 São Paulo, SP, Brasil

a3 Departamento de Medicina Preventiva, Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade de São Paulo. São Paulo, Brasil

a4 Instituto de Nutrição, Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

a5 World Public Health Nutrition Association, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Objective To assess time trends in the contribution of processed foods to food purchases made by Brazilian households and to explore the potential impact on the overall quality of the diet.

Design Application of a new classification of foodstuffs based on extent and purpose of food processing to data collected by comparable probabilistic household budget surveys. The classification assigns foodstuffs to the following groups: unprocessed/minimally processed foods (Group 1); processed culinary ingredients (Group 2); or ultra-processed ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat food products (Group 3).

Setting Eleven metropolitan areas of Brazil.

Subjects Households; n 13 611 in 1987–8, n 16 014 in 1995–5 and n 13 848 in 2002–3.

Results Over the last three decades, the household consumption of Group 1 and Group 2 foods has been steadily replaced by consumption of Group 3 ultra-processed food products, both overall and in lower- and upper-income groups. In the 2002–3 survey, Group 3 items represented more than one-quarter of total energy (more than one-third for higher-income households). The overall nutrient profile of Group 3 items, compared with that of Group 1 and Group 2 items, revealed more added sugar, more saturated fat, more sodium, less fibre and much higher energy density.

Conclusions The high energy density and the unfavourable nutrition profiling of Group 3 food products, and also their potential harmful effects on eating and drinking behaviours, indicate that governments and health authorities should use all possible methods, including legislation and statutory regulation, to halt and reverse the replacement of minimally processed foods and processed culinary ingredients by ultra-processed food products.

(Received June 02 2010)

(Accepted October 25 2010)

(Online publication December 20 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Email