Unhealthy commodities (including ultra-processed foods, soft drinks, tobacco and alcohol) are important risk factors for many chronic noncommunicable diseases. 60 to 65% of all deaths globally are caused by noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and diabetes. This amounts to 34.5 million of 52.8 million total deaths (in 2010).
The World Health Organization indicates that 80% of heart disease, strokes, and type 2 diabetes could be prevented by eliminating the major risk factors including tobacco, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use.
Death is not the only consequence of using unhealthy commodities. Noncommunicable diseases impose years of reduced functionality or disability on people around the world. There is growing evidence from research studies linking the rates of consumption of unhealthy commodities with many debilitating noncommunicable diseases (especially obesity).
In one comprehensive study, those who consumed the most ultraprocessed food had the highest BMIs, were most likely to be smokers, watched more TV and had the highest fat and lowest protein and fiber intake. They consumed the most fast food, fried foods, ate processed meats, consumed the fewest vegetables, and drank sugar-sweetened beverages. This shows an integration of behaviors that lead to disease, disability, and death.
Unhealthy Commodities Produce Profits
Companies that produce unhealthy commodities are businesses that strive to make higher and higher profits. Their aim is to make products that have low production costs, a long shelf-life, taste good, and a high retail value. These characteristics make for higher profits. Soft drink and tobacco producers are among the most profitable market sectors. It is estimated that the profit Coco-Cola’s rakes in amounts to a quarter of the retail price for their products.
Long shelf-life typically requires high levels of processing. This normally means the removal of nutrients to produce what are often called “food like substances.” Highly processed products (called ultra-processed) are made from substances such as oils, fats, flours, starches, various forms of sugar, salt, and cheaper parts of meat. They typically have a high glycemic load (producing spikes in blood sugar), are low in soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, and low in both micronutrients and phytochemicals.
In a study of food products purchases by Americans, more than 80% of calories were from ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat products. Especially for ready-to-eat products, they exceeded the Dietary Guidelines for Americans limits for saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Such products include frozen pizza, pasta dishes, nuggets, crisps, cereal, energy bars, sugary drinks, and various snack products.
Over 50 percent of U.S. diet made up of “ultra-processed” foods
Most such products are manufactured, packaged attractively, and advertised by large international conglomerates. They are typically intensely palatable, not perishable, and ready to eat. These products are readily available, priced competitively, and are are aggressively marketed with media advertising and product placements. This gives manufactured food products multiple advantages over most raw ingredients that require time and effort to obtain and prepare and often spoil if not used quickly. Continue reading