Sugary soda and processed meats are just a few ultraprocessed foods that may shorten your life

A recent, unpublished study found that increased consumption of UPFs may shorten lifespans by more than 10%

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published July 2, 2024 2:15PM (EDT)

Soda Fountain Machine (Getty Images/Jackyenjoyphotography)
Soda Fountain Machine (Getty Images/Jackyenjoyphotography)

An unpublished study, presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Chicago, found that increased consumption of ultraprocessed foods (UPFs) may shorten lifespans by more than 10%. That percentage went up to 15% for men and 14% for women once the data was adjusted, according to Erikka Loftfield, lead study author and an investigator at the National Cancer Institute.

The study analyzed dietary data from nearly 541,000 participants — ages 50 to 71 — in the US National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study conducted in 1995. Researchers looked for a correlation between the dietary data and mortality rates over the next 20 to 30 years. Compared with individuals in the bottom 10% of UPF consumption, those who ate the most UPFs were more at risk of dying from heart disease or diabetes, according to the study. Interestingly, the researchers found no increased risk of cancer-related deaths, a common health consequence that’s been mentioned by prior studies.

“Highly processed meat and soft drinks were a couple of the subgroups of ultraprocessed food most strongly associated with mortality risk,” Loftfield told CNN.

Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame potassium, high fructose corn syrup and other additives that aren’t found in raw foods. Diet soda is also associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and disruptions to gut health. Processed meats include bacon, hot dogs, sausages, ham, jerky and deli meats. Consuming such products comes with a higher risk of stomach cancers, heart disease, diabetes and early mortality.

The recent study also found that younger and more obese individuals consumed the most UPFs and overall, had a poorer quality of diet. As for limitations, the study noted that the dietary data they used was gathered only once more than 20 years ago.  

“If anything, we are probably underestimating ultraprocessed food consumption in our study because we’re being very conservative,” Loftfield said. “The intake is likely to have only grown over the years.”