Public Health Nutrition

HOT TOPIC – Food environment

Consumption of ultra-processed foods and likely impact on human health. Evidence from Canada

Jean-Claude Moubaraca1a2 c1, Ana Paula Bortoletto Martinsa1, Rafael Moreira Claroa1, Renata Bertazzi Levya1a3, Geoffrey Cannona4 and Carlos Augusto Monteiroa1a5

a1 Núcleo de Pesquisas Epidemiológicas em Nutricão e Saúde, Universidade de São Paulo, Av. Dr Arnaldo 715, 01246-904 São Paulo, SP, Brasil

a2 Département de Nutrition, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada

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

a4 World Public Health Nutrition Association, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

a5 Departamento de Nutricão, Faculdade de Saúde de Pública, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brasil


Objective To investigate consumption of ultra-processed products in Canada and to assess their association with dietary quality.

Design Application of a classification of foodstuffs based on the nature, extent and purpose of food processing to data from a national household food budget survey. Foods are classified as unprocessed/minimally processed foods (Group 1), processed culinary ingredients (Group 2) or ultra-processed products (Group 3).

Setting All provinces and territories of Canada, 2001.

Subjects Households (n 5643).

Results Food purchases provided a mean per capita energy availability of 8908 (se 81) kJ/d (2129 (se 19) kcal/d). Over 61·7 % of dietary energy came from ultra-processed products (Group 3), 25·6 % from Group 1 and 12·7 % from Group 2. The overall diet exceeded WHO upper limits for fat, saturated fat, free sugars and Na density, with less fibre than recommended. It also exceeded the average energy density target of the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Group 3 products taken together are more fatty, sugary, salty and energy-dense than a combination of Group 1 and Group 2 items. Only the 20 % lowest consumers of ultra-processed products (who consumed 33·2 % of energy from these products) were anywhere near reaching all nutrient goals for the prevention of obesity and chronic non-communicable diseases.

Conclusions The 2001 Canadian diet was dominated by ultra-processed products. As a group, these products are unhealthy. The present analysis indicates that any substantial improvement of the diet would involve much lower consumption of ultra-processed products and much higher consumption of meals and dishes prepared from minimally processed foods and processed culinary ingredients.

(Received March 19 2012)

(Revised September 18 2012)

(Accepted September 19 2012)

(Online publication November 21 2012)


  • Ultra-processed foods;
  • Nutrition;
  • Diet;
  • Food classification;
  • Obesity


c1 Corresponding author: Email