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OP12 Social inequalities in ultra-processed food intakes in the United Kingdom: A time trend analysis (2008–2018)
  1. Zoé Colombet,
  2. Ellen Schwaller,
  3. Anna Head,
  4. Chris Kypridemos,
  5. Simon Capewell,
  6. Martin O’Flaherty
  1. Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK


Background The association between higher consumption of industrially ultra-processed foods (UPF) and adverse health outcomes, including obesity, is increasingly evident. Furthermore, health outcomes such as obesity show pronounced social gradients in the UK. As a high-income country, we might expect higher UPF consumption in the lowest socio-economic position (SEP). However, the evidence for UK social gradients in UPF intake is scarce. We therefore evaluated the association between UPF intakes and measurements of SEP.

Methods We used data from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2008–18), with dietary intakes based on four-day food diaries. To quantify UPF consumption, we classified the extent of industrial food processing for each food and beverage using the NOVA classification, then calculated UPF intake in grams, and percentage of daily energy. As markers of SEP, we used household income and education, plus the English IMD 2015, Welsh IMD 2014, Scottish IMD 2016, and Northern Ireland IMD 2017. We created multiple linear regression models to explore potential associations between UPF intake and SEP, all adjusted for age, sex, UK region and NDNS survey year.

Results In the UK, UPF accounted for over 60% of the daily energy, having increased from 57% in 2008 to 63% in 2018. UPF consumption was higher in men than in women (59% vs. 57%, p<0.01), and in younger participants than in older ones (67% in less than 14-year-old vs. 55% in 75 and older, p<0.01).

UPF consumption was also consistently higher in more deprived groups. Thus 9 percentage points (pp) (CI95%: [5;12]) higher in households earning less than £5,000/year than in those earning over £100,000, 17pp ([5;28]) higher in those with less education, 4pp ([3;5]) higher in those in routine occupations than those in managerial and professional occupations, and 3pp ([2;4]) higher in the most deprived IMD quintiles compared with the most affluent. All results were similar using gram of UPF.

Conclusion In the UK, ultra-processed food now accounts for over 60% of total energy intake and has increased over the last decade. Although high energy intakes from UPF were seen in all social groups, our analyses consistently demonstrated even higher UPF consumption among the most deprived groups. These analyses offer potentially important messages for future UK food and inequalities policies.

  • Socioeconomic factors
  • UPF changes
  • health inequalities

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