What makes ultra-processed food so appealing? Two CUNY SPH researchers investigate

Jan. 11, 2022
processed foods

What makes ultra-processed food—products manufactured with industrial processes and high in fat, sugar and salt, additives, and preservatives—so appealing? Growing scientific evidence shows that ultra-processed foods are the leading cause of premature deaths and preventable illnesses from unhealthy diets, now the major cause of the global burden of disease. Thus, understanding the appeal of these products is a key task for public health researchers.

In a new report in World Nutrition, the journal of the World Public Health Nutrition Association, CUNY SPH doctoral student and fellow at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute Emma Vignola and Distinguished Professor Nick Freudenberg, along with Aydin Nazmi at the California Polytechnical Institute, analyze how the characteristics of products, people, and corporate practices intersect to make ultra-processed food so appealing to so many people.  

In a critical scan of literature across public health, psychology, neurology, marketing and economics, the authors conclude that the appeal of these products is a consequence of the interactions of these characteristics, all maximized by their corporate producers to increase sales and consumption.  

“Achieving reductions in diet-related diseases,” said Freudenberg, “will require developing new integrated strategies and policies to counteract this appeal in order to reduce consumption.”

Emilia Vignola, Aydin Nazmi, Nicholas Freudenberg. What Makes Ultra-Processed Food Appealing? A critical scan and conceptual model. World Nutrition 2021;12(4):136-175