Macroeconomic impact of ultra-processed food and food insufficiency

Ultra-processed food is designed to be addictive. “Hyper-palatable” food, loaded with salt, sugar and fat and textured to melt away in the mouth, lights up the pleasure centers in the brain.

But, in addition to being convenient and tasty, ultra-processed food is cheap compared with fresh whole food.

Fat, Sugar, Salt … You’ve Been Thinking About Food All Wrong

Scientists are asking tough questions about the health effects of ultra-processed diets. The answers are complicated—and surprising.

by Matt Reynolds, Wired, Science, Feb 22, 2023

A new food classification system, called NOVA, breaks foods down into four categories. Least worrisome are minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed meats. Then come processed culinary ingredients (oils, butter, and sugar), and after that processed foods (tinned vegetables, smoked meats, freshly baked bread, and simple cheeses)—substances to be used carefully as part of a healthy diet. And then there are ultra-processed foods…

Ultra-processed food makes up almost 57 percent of the average UK diet and more than 60 percent of the US diet…In Hall’s 2019 study, the weekly cost of the ultra-processed meals was $45 cheaper than the whole food diet… Overconsumption of ultra-processed food has been linked to all kinds of health issues: colorectal and breast cancer, obesity, depression, and all-cause mortality… [end quote]

Accessing and preparing a whole-foods diet requires mobility (access to stores that carry whole foods), money to buy the whole foods, cooking skill and time/ energy to cook. People who work long hours (especially single parents) and many elderly are hard-pressed to afford, access and prepare whole foods.

The elderly are especially vulnerable to food insufficiency, which has been shown to hasten dementia. Only 47% of eligible older adults past the age of 60 years enrolled in SNAP. Cognitive decline can act as a barrier to SNAP participation among older adults eligible for the program, due to the difficult administrative processes associated with demonstrating program eligibility.

The Macroeconomic impact of ultra-processed food and food insufficiency is large, considering the size of the population affected. “Pay the grocer or pay the doctor.”



Because of the last related thread to this one on raw foods I have changed my diet. About 35 to 45% of my diet every day now is raw food. Vegetables and fruit. Then healthier breads. Some fish or meat. The main thing being health meals and/or snacks of raw food. My mood is much better. My body feels better. I am now deciding when to eat bulk with the raw foods and when to count calories with the other foods.


I have to say thank you METARs.

1 Like

Who’s worried about processed food, it’s the fake foods that’s the problem…doc


Very good article…but those were mostly processed foods.

1 Like

I was reading something this weekend about cheese that burned instead of melting, metal that a magnet collected in food and fake milk that turned black from seaweed… doc

What was it about the thread that captured your imagination sufficiently to make this change? I can’t think of anything that’d tempt me to eat raw fish or meat (:face_vomiting:). Healthier bread? From what to what?

The motivation for behaviour change always intrigues me. An occupational hazard, I guess, after over 40+years at the orifice and then the gym.


Ultra-processed ‘food’ is not food. It’s dangerous crap that will cost you, not at the supermarket but at the healthcare market.

Cooked food is food.

The Captain



It is something about me. I reinvent my personal habits. I guess when I stopped smoking two packs a day at age 26 and learned how rewarding it is to change for the better. But I gained 30 lbs when I quit smoking. I now weight about 15 lbs less than my after smoking weight gain.

Ultra processed food is certainly bad but it may not be the main problem. The key word above may be “overconsumption”.

American caloric intake increased by 23% from 1970 to 2010. During that period the level of obesity more than doubled (13% to about 30%).

I am old enough to remember the 1970s and I don’t remember it being a nutritionally healthy time. Wonder bread, sugary cereals, lots of canned foods, TV dinners, those wonderful Twinkies, and sodas everywhere. Jello with canned fruit embedded in it was considered healthy. Yet obesity was much lower then than today.

The problem may be less what we eat but rather that we eat too much.


In a general sense I’d agree…although the two tend to be linked for all sorts of reasons. However, in the context of the quoted article and its hyperlinks…

…this particular study implies an adverse association independent of excess energy content. At least, per the abstract. I can’t quite see how it’s possible to “adjust” the supposed energy content of a diet when you’re looking at questionnaires (which is how these data were collected in the study)

I think the implication here is that the ultra-processed nature of food, when it comprises such a large part of the diet, exerts its harm by displacing the more recognisable, healthier food options and not from its obesogenic nature…i.e. craptaculous eating habits are harmful even if they don’t make you fat. A hard case to make, if you ask me, given that it’s getting increasingly hard to find eligible, not-fat subjects for these studies nowadays.

However, I also remember that we didn’t go out to eat in restaurants so much in the 1970’s. And it was before McD supersized everything. I think that eating out skews our perception of what a normal serving size is.


I found this interesting blog about plate sizes, portions and obesity.


1 Like

1970s? I can recall the 1960s and a bit of the 50s. My home town didn’t even have a McDonald’s or any fast food places back then (it was England, mind) In about the mid 1960s a small Wimpy bar opened. It was a sit down, table service place but still a novelty. The opening was given a full page spread in the local newspaper.

1970s…still in England…I recall that the only patients of mine who needed insulin were folk with type 1 diabetes. “Real” diabetes as we thought of it back then. A big culture shock when I came to the US a very short time later. We spent a year’s sabbatical in NY in 1980…dh as a research fellow in the late Rosalyn Yalow’s lab. The 1970s as remembered in this thread seem to have disappeared quickly.

Our first weekend, we took a walk around the local nabe (N.Bronx) and decided to try our luck at the local deli. We didn’t know what to ask for so copied the order of the bloke in front of us…one ham and cheese (no mayo) Fortunately, we were taking it back to our apartment (chowing down on a lumberjack sized meal whilst out and about was not the thing to do…another sign of the times)… had to dismantle it, put half the ham and cheese in the fridge, scrape off a full inch of butter and slice the rolls a bit smaller. It was still more than enough for 2…by our reckoning, at least. The bloke in front of us most certainly looked as if he regularly ate the whole one himself.

Regardless of figures showing the increase in obesity rates since the 1970s, that wasn’t an era of lean eating habits, that’s for sure

I am watching this fresh as I write. I do not know the conclusions yet.

Upon conclusion of the segment, not very conclusive. Except a slight elevation of blood pressure in the elderly is a good idea.

Oh and depending on your age having a little extra food is a good idea.

The difference is in how willing people are to cook. If you cook your own meals in part at least the costs come down.

NY in the 70s was insane with the butter!!! I used to buy a buttered roll most mornings at college and the butter was a thick slice (like a thick slice of cheese), it looked literally sliced off one of those large slabs of butter. I used to have to throw away 95% of the butter each time. What a waste! I later found out that butter, specifically those large slabs of it, were govt subsidized, and most organizations (schools, colleges, etc) got them either free or greatly cost reduced.

I was used to what I learned was a schmear (sp?)… and barely that. Just enough on the bread to stop any juice from your (one) tomato slice soaking the bread.

A few years later, when it became fashionable to blame low fat diets for the nation’s nutritional woes, I’d oftentimes recount this story…of removing a fair amount of the fat and protein and even some bread from the sandwich to the extent that what we had was changed proportionately from a high fat to a low fat/highish carb meal ( but one wirh far fewer Calories)…and point out the incongruity of blaming one micronutrient alone when ALL of them were in excess.