Is consuming ultra-processed foods associated with an increased risk of venous thromboembolisms?

In a recent study published in the Clinical Nutrition Journal, scientists examined the association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and the risk of venous thromboembolisms using a prospective cohort from the United Kingdom (U.K.) Biobank.

Study: Ultra-processed food intake and incident venous thromboembolism risk: Prospective cohort study. Image Credit: beats1/Shutterstock.comStudy: Ultra-processed food intake and incident venous thromboembolism risk: Prospective cohort study. Image Credit: beats1/


Large-scale industrial food processing has resulted in the surplus availability of ultra-processed foods that often have a high energy content in the form of added sugars and trans and saturated fatty acids, high sodium content, and relatively low nutritional or dietary fiber content.

Many studies have reported the association between consuming ultra-processed foods and a host of diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, mental health disorders, and all-cause mortality.

The increased consumption of ultra-processed foods has also directly been linked to abdominal obesity, impaired kidney function, and inflammation, which increase the risk of venous thromboembolism. Venous thromboembolism is a circulatory system disorder that results in blood clots in the veins and has a high economic burden and mortality risk.

However, while evidence indicates that consuming ultra-processed foods is associated with venous thromboembolism risk factors, a shortage of studies has examined the association directly.

About the study

In the present study, the researchers used data from the U.K. Biobank on participants who had completed at least one dietary recall questionnaire and reported reasonable levels of energy intake. Of these, they excluded individuals who had baseline venous thromboembolism.

The participants were between the ages of 40 and 69 years, and the data was collected between 2007 and 2010.

The dietary intake questionnaire evaluates the 24-hour recall of 206 food items and 32 beverages, including alcoholic beverages. Unlike the food frequency questionnaire, the 24-hour recall dietary intake questionnaire lowers the risk of bias associated with multiple measurements.

The food intake is calculated based on the number of portions of each item after informing the participants about the size of each portion. The intake is then calculated in grams based on the number of grams in each standard portion size.

The NOVA food classification system, which examines the purpose, nature, and extent of industrial processing of food, was used to define ultra-processed foods, and the total intake of ultra-processed foods was determined based on the sum of all the dietary items that were classified as ultra-processed foods.

The ultra-processed food consumption was analyzed based on five quintiles comprising the number of servings of ultra-processed foods a day, the total intake of ultra-processed foods in grams, the proportion of ultra-processed foods in grams in the daily food intake, the energy intake from ultra-processed foods in a day, and the proportion of the daily energy intake derived from ultra-processed foods.

Covariates such as age, sex, ethnicity, education levels, smoking status, alcohol consumption, and physical activity levels were extracted from the data.

Additionally, the body mass index and the Townsend deprivation index were also calculated. The International Classification of Disease codes 9 and 10 define venous thromboembolisms and their subtypes, such as pulmonary embolisms and deep vein thrombosis.


The results indicated that an increased intake of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of venous thromboembolism, and the association was constant across groups based on sex, age, and body mass index.

The increased risk of venous thromboembolisms associated with higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was also observed across the various measures of ultra-processed food consumption.

Furthermore, starting with a baseline of no venous thromboembolism and compared to individuals with no incidences of venous thromboembolisms, those who developed venous thromboembolisms were more likely to have been from a lower socioeconomic status and have a smoking habit.

Studies have reported an association between lower socioeconomic status and increased consumption of ultra-processed foods due to the low cost, easy availability, and long shelf lives.

Apart from the evidence of increased risk of cardiovascular disease associated with ultra-processed food consumption, these results suggest a general association between ultra-processed foods and the development of atherosclerosis.

Furthermore, despite the moderate association between ultra-processed foods and venous thromboembolism risk, the findings have significant implications for public health, given the widespread and substantial consumption of ultra-processed foods across income groups.

The consumption of ultra-processed foods is believed to have a negative impact on cardiac health in general and venous thromboembolisms in particular through various mechanisms, including increased abdominal adiposity, upregulation of inflammatory cytokines, and renal dysfunction.


Overall, the findings indicated that across groups based on socioeconomic status, age, and sex, there existed a moderate association between the increased consumption of ultra-processed foods and a higher risk of venous thromboembolism.

The results highlight the need to develop a dietary strategy through public information initiatives to educate the population about the health risks of consuming ultra-processed foods.

Journal reference:
Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Written by

Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Chinta Sidharthan is a writer based in Bangalore, India. Her academic background is in evolutionary biology and genetics, and she has extensive experience in scientific research, teaching, science writing, and herpetology. Chinta holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the Indian Institute of Science and is passionate about science education, writing, animals, wildlife, and conservation. For her doctoral research, she explored the origins and diversification of blindsnakes in India, as a part of which she did extensive fieldwork in the jungles of southern India. She has received the Canadian Governor General’s bronze medal and Bangalore University gold medal for academic excellence and published her research in high-impact journals.


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