The cultural and socio-economic impact of ultra-processed foods

  • Diets are influenced by socio-cultural traditions (e.g., rice in Asia, cheese in France), religious beliefs (e.g., vegetarianism in Hinduism) and socio-economic dimensions, including fair trade, the preservation of small farmers, and healthy food affordability. 
  • Overall, UPFs do not seem to be associated with a high level of social life, since it is documented that they are consumed in isolated situations, e.g., in front of screens or on the go. In contrast, ‘real meals’ mainly made of ‘real foods’ are related to moments of festivity and family sharing. The Brazilian Dietary Guidelines point that ready-to-consume UPFs, which can be eaten anytime and anywhere, “makes meals and sharing of food at table unnecessary”, resulting in the isolation of the consumer, despite that fact that these foods “are disguised by advertisements suggesting that such products promote social interaction, which they do not”.
  • Due to the very low cost, UPFs may also negatively affect small farmers and producers around the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries where local foods may be more expensive. In high-income societies, UPFs are generally preferred by the poorest and less educated people, whereas in emerging and developing countries they may appear as outward signs of wealth. Through the high level of standardization, and their lower price, many of them are progressively replacing some culinary traditions globally, especially among the youngest, with more subtle, risky, and demanding tastes.