Dr. Carlos Monteiro's NOVA Classification Spurs Global Debate on Ultraprocessed Foods and Public Health Impact
Dr. Carlos Monteiro's NOVA Classification Spurs Global Debate on Ultraprocessed Foods and Public Health Impact

Dr. Carlos Monteiro’s NOVA Classification Spurs Global Debate on Ultraprocessed Foods and Public Health Impact

In 2010, Dr. Carlos Monteiro developed the NOVA classification, a system categorizing foods based on their processing levels, with a particular focus on ultraprocessed foods. This concept gained international attention despite initial skepticism and lack of robust scientific backing, significantly impacting discussions on nutrition and public health.

At the International Congress on Obesity in São Paulo, Monteiro presented evidence supporting the NOVA classification, sharing the session with Dr. Kevin Hall, who initially approached Monteiro’s ideas skeptically. Monteiro detailed the four categories in NOVA: unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultraprocessed foods, which include products like sodas and frozen pizzas.

Monteiro discussed the industrial processes used in creating ultraprocessed foods and the addition of cosmetic additives to enhance taste and shelf life. He presented a systematic review linking ultraprocessed food consumption to numerous health issues, including mortality, cancer, and metabolic diseases, based on data from over nine million participants.

Dr. Carlos Monteiro's NOVA Classification Spurs Global Debate on Ultraprocessed Foods and Public Health Impact
Dr. Carlos Monteiro’s NOVA Classification Spurs Global Debate on Ultraprocessed Foods and Public Health Impact

Monteiro’s study, currently under peer review, indicated that ultraprocessed foods make up a significant portion of diets in developed countries and are increasing in middle-income countries. Data from 93 countries showed a global rise in ultraprocessed food consumption, with significant increases in China, Brazil, Mexico, Korea, and Spain.

Further evidence presented by Monteiro showed that diets high in ultraprocessed foods lead to higher caloric intake and weight gain. He highlighted the reduction in nutritional quality and the presence of harmful chemical contaminants in these foods, emphasizing their potential for addiction and the need for more research, particularly in low-income countries.

Dr. Kevin Hall, initially critical of the concept, conducted his own research which supported Monteiro’s claims. His study showed that participants consumed more calories and gained weight on ultraprocessed diets compared to minimally processed ones. Hall suggested that ultraprocessed foods might influence brain reward pathways, though more research is needed.

Monteiro proposed measures to combat ultraprocessed food consumption, similar to anti-tobacco strategies. These included public health campaigns, warning labels, advertising restrictions, and policies to remove ultraprocessed foods from schools and healthcare facilities. He also advocated for taxing these foods and subsidizing healthier options to make them more accessible.

Despite the food industry’s resistance, Monteiro believes that regulatory pressure and rising healthcare costs will eventually force change. He emphasized the urgency of addressing the issue to prevent long-term damage to public health, drawing a parallel to the fight against global warming.

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