Study Links Processed Food to Inflammatory Bowel Disease

A study published in The BMJ revealed a link between ultra-processed foods and a higher risk of IBD.

Higher consumption of processed foods may lead to an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according to a recent study published in The BMJ.1

IBD is more common in industrialized nations, and data suggests that dietary factors might play a role. Processed foods include packaged goods and snacks, soda, sugary cereals, ready meals containing food additives, as well as reconstituted meat and fish products that contain high levels of added sugar, fat and salt. As white meat, unprocessed red meat, dairy, starch, and fruit, vegetables, and legumes were not found to be associated with development of IBD, this study suggests that it might not be the food itself that confers this risk but rather the way the food is processed.

Researched analyzed dietary information from 116,087 adults between the ages of 35 and 70 years in countries with diverse income levels who were taking part in the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. The study analyzed the global impact of societal influences on disease.

Participants of the study were evaluated every 3 years between 2003 and 2016. Follow-ups were conducted after 9 years, in which investigators reported diagnoses of IBD, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis (UC). There were 467 participants who developed IBD, 90 with Crohn's disease and 377 with UC.

The researchers found that higher intake of ultra-processed food was associated with an increased risk of IBD after looking at various factors. They found an 82% increased risk of IBD among those who consumed 5 or more servings per day, and a 67% increased risk for 1-4 servings per day compared with less than 1 serving of ultra-processed food per day.

Several subgroups of ultra-processed food, including soft drinks, refined sweetened foods, salty snacks, and processed meat, were associated with higher risks of IBD. In contrast, white meat, red meat, dairy, starch, and fruit, vegetables, and legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils, were not associated with IBD.


Results were consistent for Crohn's disease and UC and were similar after further analysis to test the risk of developing IBD based on age and region, suggesting that the findings are robust. Nevertheless, study authors asserted that the data "support the hypothesis that intake of ultra-processed foods could be an environmental factor that increases the risk of IBD."

However, further studies should be conducted to look at the contributing factors in processed foods to look further into these associations, investigators wrote.


1. Ultra-processed food linked to higher risk of IBD. News Release. EurekAlert; July 14, 2021. Accessed August 10, 2021.