Scientists have discovered that a person's processed food intake is one of the strongest predictors of cancer development—above age, sex, body mass index, height, level of physical activity, smoking and drinking habits, calories consumed, and family history. This groundbreaking finding comes courtesy of a nine-year study out of France that followed just shy of 105,000 adults aged 18 or older, Business Insider reports.
Researchers tracked the participants' usual consumption of 3300 different food items, categorized by their degree of processing, in an online database. The surveys, filled out six days out of each year, served as a comprehensive snapshot of what each participant ate in a 24-hour period, collecting data from both weekdays and weekends. The team then compared that data to roughly five years' worth of medical records and surveys of previously cancer-free adult patients to determine who was getting cancer and how their diet could have played a role.
In the end, study leaders found that participants who ate a high amount of ultra-processed, packaged foods like chips, instant ramen noodles, pastries, muffins, candy, sodas, frozen dinners, and sugary cereals were more likely to develop cancer. Even those who ate slightly less processed foods, like canned goods, cheeses, and baguettes, didn't experience the same elevated cancer risk, while healthy eaters who opted for fish, rice, and veggies had the lowest rates of cancer. The research controlled for a "fairly comprehensive number of factors," including family history, age, sex, prescription birth control (as relating to breast cancer), body mass index, and education, clarifies the publication.
"Scientists would never suggest that a link between data points is the same as a clear indication that one thing is the cause of another," clarifies BI. "But this new finding is concerning enough that the scientists say the next several decades could be increasingly cancerous times if we continue eating so many sugary pre-made foods."