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New Study Reveals Relationship Between Ultra-processed Foods And Cognitive Decline

On December 5, 2022, a new study was released by JAMA Neurology that catalogs the “Association Between Consumption of Ultraprocessed Foods and Cognitive Decline.”After 8 years of observing 10775 individuals with similar characteristics, higher ultra-processed food consumption was linked to a higher rate of cognitive decline. Previously, ultra-processed foods had been linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, but cognitive impairment had yet to be known. In theory, this could mean limiting ultra-processed food intake could reduce cognitive decline for aging adults. 


From 2008 to 2017 the study was carried out and analyzed from December 2021 to May 2022. The subjects were 35 to 74-year-old public servants from 6 different Brazilian cities. Scientists made sure to exclude individuals with already incomplete or extreme diet or mental data. In three waves, about four years apart the individuals were exposed to ultra-processed foods that were split into quartiles based on the percentage of their daily total energy received by those foods. 


The results revealed that in the median follow-up (8 years), those above the first quartile or those exposed to more processed foods displayed a “28% faster rate of cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of executive function decline” than those in the first quartile (less processed foods).


Meaning, there is an association between these two variables. However, it is important to note that association is not a correlation, so it does not imply causation. Adding on, Science Media Centre points out that cognitive decline is expected with age. Rather than ultra-processed foods causing the decrease, it more adds to a person’s already deteriorating cognitive ability. 

Nonetheless, it has long been determined that ultra-processed foods have little to no health benefits. In the past 40 years, the production of these foods has increased. They are  “58% of the calories consumed by U.S. citizens, 57% of those consumed by British citizens, 48% of those consumed by Canadian citizens, and 30% of calories consumed by Brazilian citizens.” Combined with this and past studies, we should be critical of the food industry’s manufacturing of ultra-processed foods since it is a public health concern.

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