There is no association between the consumption of ultra‐processed food (UPF) in childhood and increased risk of developing wheeze or asthma in adolescence, according to a study published in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology.

Researchers have long been interested in links between diet and asthma. The current study was designed to investigate the question of whether childhood consumption of UPF is associated with increased risk of wheeze, asthma, or severe asthma in adolescence. Researchers analyzed data on 2190 participants, aged 11 years, in the 2004 Pelotas Birth Cohort Study. Participants were enrolled as newborns at 5 maternity hospitals in Pelotas, a medium-sized city in southern Brazil, and all received 6 follow-up home assessments at 3, 12, 24, and 48 months, followed by research clinic follow-ups at the mean ages of 6.8 and 11.0 years. For the current study, researchers used data from the baseline perinatal interview and the research clinic follow-ups. UPF consumption was assessed via a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire at follow-up, with foods classified according to degree of processing. Wheeze and asthma were assessed using the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood questionnaire. Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated using logistic regression. Children with asthma at age 6 follow-up were excluded.

UPF consumption at age 6 was not associated with asthma or wheeze at age 11 in the prospective analyses, and these estimates did not materially change after adjustments for potential confounders. In comparing the highest quintile of UPF consumption to the lowest quintile, researchers found no association with current wheeze (OR, 0.85; 95% CI, 0.54-1.34), asthma (OR, 0.84; 95% CI, 0.58-1.21), or severe asthma (OR, 1.12; 95% CI, 0.62-2.03). Similar results were seen in cross-sectional analyses comparing adolescents in the highest quintile of UPF consumption with those in the lowest, with no association found in the multivariate models between UPF consumption at age 11 (later exposure) and current wheeze (OR, 1.12; 95% CI, 0.72-1.75), asthma (OR, 1.00; 95% CI, 0.7-1.44), or severe asthma (OR, 1.05; 95% CI, 0.59-1.86).

Study limitations included lack of information on some food preparation, potential measurement error as the mother completed the survey about child food consumption, potential misclassification, a small sample size, and sample population from a single city.

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However, study investigators concluded, “Our study suggests that UPF consumption during childhood or adolescence is not associated with asthma or wheeze among adolescents. Future longitudinal research in different populations is needed to confirm our results.”

Reference

Machado Azeredo C, Cortese M, Dos Santos Costa C, et al. Ultra-processed food consumption during childhood and asthma in adolescence: data from the 2004 Pelotas birth cohort study [published online September 21, 2019]. Pediatr Allergy Immunol. doi: 10.1111/pai.13126