September 24, 2023

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Potential review of ‘ultra-processed food’ by dietary guideline committee could portend trouble for packaged food industry


As one of the first steps in updating the 2025-2030 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services are calling for public comment through May 16 on a proposed list of scientific questions and topics​that ultimately will be reviewed by a yet-to-be named panel of experts who will recommend updates to the pivotal document which influences what is served in schools, prisons and many US households.

As in the past, the questions focus on diet and health outcomes across life stages with special attention paid to the relationship between diet and risk of overweight and obesity.

But this time, in addition to the standard line-up of nutrients typically accused of contributing to weight gain and chronic health conditions, such as added sugar and saturated fat, the list calls out for the first time “ultra-processed foods.”

The inclusion of ultra-processed foods was lauded by several public health advocates, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest senior policy associate Jessi Silverman, who noted research​ connecting them to overconsumption at higher frequencies than minimally processed foods.

Opening Pandora’s box?

But others caution the question could open a Pandora’s box and have far reaching consequences for the consumer packaged goods industry.

“There is a growing amount of scientific evidence that ultra-processed food contributes to poor health outcomes when compared to other less processed foods, yet criticism about the strength of the evidence exists,”​ said Carmen Byker Shanks, principal research scientist at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition and Associate Project Director for Reporting and Evaluation of the GusNIP Nutrition Incentive Program Training, Technical Assistance, Evaluation and Information Center.


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