Saturday, December 2

14 Percent of adults are addicted to ultra-processed Foods, Experts Warn

Experts are warning that ultra-processed foods (UPFs) in one in eight children and one seven adults to become addicted.1 This has prompted calls for some products to be labelled as such for its addictive attributes.2 Recent studies have linked UPFs such as ice cream, fizzy drinks and ready meals to poor health, including an increased risk of cancer, weight gain and heart disease.3 Global consumption of the products is souring and UPFs now make up more than half of the average diet in the United States and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Norther Ireland.4 Now researchers say the way some people consume such foods could “meet the criteria for diagnosis of substance use disorder”.5

Researchers say the way some people consume such foods could “meet the criteria for diagnosis of substance use disorder”.6 It is up to civil society to bring this consumption of toxic foods to the state’s attention. Behaviours that could meet this criteria include: intense cravings, symptoms of withdrawal, less control over intake, and continued use despite such consequences as obesity, binge eating disorder, poorer physical and mental health, and lower quality of life, they said.7 Analysis and examination of 281 studies from 36 different countries found that “ultra-processed food addiction” was estimated to occur in 14 % of adults and 12 % of children, the researchers wrote in the BMJ.8

Rasulullah ﷺ said, ” Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allah will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter.”

According to researchers from America, Brazil and Spain, said: “Refined Carbohydrates or fats evoke similar levels of extracellular dopamine and in the brain stratum to those seem in with addictive substances such as nicotine and alcohol.9 “Researched on these behavioural and biological parallels, foods that deliver high levels of refined carbohydrates and fats to the gut could also have a part to play in their “addictive potential”, the authors added.10 Food additives may also make their contribution to the “addictiveness of UPFs”, they said.11 While additives, which are added to food for taste and to “improve the mouth feel” are unlikely to be addictive on their own, they could, “become powerful reinforcers of the effects of calories in the gut”, they wrote.12 Researchers have stressed that not all foods have the potential to become addictive.13   


Another food substance that has proven to be deadly in large overdoses is salt.14 Almost the entire world population is consuming to much salt (sodium).15 The global mean intake of adults is 4310 mg/day sodium (equivalent 10.78 g. day salt)(1).16 This is more than double the World Health Organization recommendation for adults of less than 2000 mg/day sodium (equivalent to <5g/day salt).17 The primary health effect associated with diets high in sodium is raised blood pressure, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, Meniere’s disease, and kidney disease.18 An estimated 1.89 million deaths each year are associated with consuming to much sodium (2).19 Reducing sodium intake is one of the most cost-effective measures to improve health and reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases: for every US$ 1 invested in scaling up sodium reduction intervention, there will be a return of at least US$ 12.20

  • For adults, WHO has recommended less than 2000 mg/day of sodium (equivalent to less than 5g/day salt (just under a teaspoon).21
  • For children who have aged two- fifteen years, WHO recommends adjusting the adult dose downward based on the requirements in their energy intake.22 This recommendation for children does not address the period of exclusive breastfeeding (0-6 months) or complimentary feeding with continued breastfeeding (6-24 months)23
  • All salt that is consumed should be iodized (fortified with iodine), which is essential for healthy brain development in the foetus and young child and optimizing people’s mental health in general.

The increase in salt intake and Ultra-Processed Foods (UPFs) needs to stop. The large intake of salt or sodium and UPFs is a worrying trend. Combatting these forms of toxic consumption begins with education on the subject like diabetes and obesity. Doctors and the state (government) need to recommend parents discourage their children from consuming UPFs most of the time as limiting sodium intake especially from fast foods. The threat of high consumption of these kinds of foods is deadly for the kidneys, liver and the heart. The consumption of fatty acids such as oily and saturated foods can lead to further difficulties such as increasing the risk of cancer. There needs to be a change in consuming UPFs possibly through having warning labels put on them. These can be a deterrence to stop companies from placing chemicals in their foods.

The threats and risks carried by salt and the sodium it contains should not be underestimated. Children need to be educated about the harmful effects of sodium and ultra-processed foods. This can be done through mass assembly meetings of entire schools in the same way students are educated about the effects of alcohol and drugs. This form of teaching can’t be done through text books alone. Only time will tell how these findings are taken and what action will be taken to limit the effects of sodium and ultra-processed foods. This could go a long way to improve the life spans of children and adults alike. There needs to be a limited absorption of salt and UPFs and the subsidisation of healthier foods by the government. But education is the key to resolving these problems. Education and knowledge. Also, South Africa particularly the health department in Pretoria needs to be aware of this.

Article written by: Yacoob Cassim

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