New report on the NOVA food classification and ultra-processing from the FAO

The evidence that ultra-processed food degrades diets and causes obesity and many chronic non-communicable diseases, is more and more robust. This is shown in a new report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Jose Graziano da Silva, outgoing FAO director-general, says: ‘Glad to see FAO report on NOVA classification and ultra-processed food, by Carlos Monteiro and the NUPENS/USP team. The document shows consistent evidence on how the consumption of ultra-processed food causes obesity and many chronic non-communicable diseases’.

Carlos Monteiro of the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, lead author of the report, says ‘The global industrialized food system is broken. The very rapid rise in manufacture and consumption of unhealthy ultra-processed food all over the world, and the parallel rises in obesity and diabetes, both now pandemic,  illustrates this’.

The report, now published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, examines the peer-reviewed literature on the effects of ultra-processed foods on diet quality and on health. Papers on the effects on diet quality reported results from nineteen nationally-representative studies. Papers on health outcomes reported results from nine nationwide cross-sectional studies, sixteen longitudinal studies and one randomized controlled trial.

The results from the studies on diet quality show significant and graded associations between the dietary share of ultra-processed foods and dietary nutrient profiles prone to non-communicable diseases, including high or excessive content of free or added sugar, saturated and trans fats, and sodium, and also high dietary energy density; and low or insufficient content of protein and dietary fibre.

The results from the studies on health outcomes show plausible, significant, graded associations between the dietary share of ultra-processed foods and the occurrence or incidence of several non-communicable diseases, including obesity and obesity-related outcomes, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, breast and all cancers, depression, gastrointestinal disorders, frailty in the elderly, and also premature mortality. In the case of short-term increases in body weight and fat, this is solidly supported by a randomized controlled trial conducted by the US National Institutes of Health. These findings are all fully referenced in the report.

Carlos Monteiro adds: ‘this is the first time that the peer-reviewed literature linking ultra-processed food intake to diet quality and to risk of non-communicable diseases has been brought together and analyzed.  This report as published by FAO is a great step forward’.

He adds ‘The conclusion is clear. Governments at all levels now need to agree and enact statutory including fiscal policies that support and protect enjoyment of freshly prepared meals.  Worldwide, these are based on minimally processed foods and include processed culinary ingredients and processed foods. This means enormous opportunities for the food industry as a whole including producers of fresh foods, especially co-operative and family farmers that still produce most food all over the world, and also for producers of processed culinary ingredients and processed foods.  At the same time, statutory measures must make ultra-processed foods, which are as great a menace to public health as tobacco, less attractive, affordable and available’.

Contacts availability:
Carlos A. Monteiro ([email protected]); Mark Lawrence ([email protected])

Report availability:

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