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These common snacks could increase risk of bowel cancer, study finds

Both men and women who consumed the highest amount of these snacks had increased risk

Kate Ng
Tuesday 06 September 2022 11:02 BST
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A new study has found that ultra-processed foods, including popular packaged snacks and sugary drinks, may increase a person’s risk of bowel cancer.

Researchers in the US examined data from three major long-term health studies involving more than 46,000 men and almost 160,000 women, who were tracked for 24 to 28 years.

During this period, 3,216 cases of bowel cancer were identified. The academics used data on cases and diets to determine the risk for bowel cancer.

They found that ultra-processed foods, including soft drinks; packaged snacks; commercial bread, cakes and biscuits; confectionary; margarine; and pre-processed ready-to-eat or heat products were linked to higher risk of bowel cancer.

Women who consumed the highest quantities of ready meals had a 17 per cent increased risk of bowel cancer compared to those in the lowest consumption group.

Meanwhile, men who consumed the highest quantities of ready meals that contained meat, poultry or seafood were at higher risk of bowel cancer.

The study also found men who drank the most sugar-sweetened drinks were 21 per cent more likely to develop bowel cancer compared to those who drank the least.

Researchers said that ultra-processed foods make up 57 per cent of total daily calories consumed by American adults, with the figure steadily increasing over the last two decades.

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the study’s authors said: “High consumption of total ultra-processed foods in men and certain subgroups of ultra-processed foods in men and women was associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.”

A separate study published in the same journal looked at food consumption among Italian people and found that adults with the lowest-quality diet and the highest ultra-processed food consumption had poorer mortality rates.

Researchers examined data on nearly 23,000 participants, 2,205 of whom died during the follow-up period.

Adults with the lowest quality diet and the highest-ultra-processed food consumption were more likely to have died during the follow-up period compared to those who had better diets and ate the least amount of ultra-processed food.

In the UK, ultra-processed foods are foods that contain ingredients that would not normally be added when cooking homemade food – such as chemicals, colourings, sweeteners and preservatives.

The most commonly-eaten ultra-processed foods among Britons include commercial bread, pre-packaged meals, breakfast cereals, sausages and other reconstituted meat products.

Confectionary, biscuits, pasties, buns and cakes, and industrial chips are also common in British diets, as well as savoury snacks, soft drinks and fruit drinks.

Additional reporting by PA

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