Ultra-Processed Foods Lead to Higher Risk of Kidney Disease, New Study Finds

Processed Foods

June 6, 2022, New York – A new study published today in the National Kidney Foundation’s (NKF) American Journal of Kidney Diseases (AJKD) warns that ultra-processed foods (UPF) and drinks are linked with increased risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Association Between Ultra-Processed Food Consumption and Risk of Incident CKD: A Prospective Cohort Study published today analyzed data from more than 14,000 adults without CKD at baseline, and found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods, which have little to no intact foods but may contain artificial additives and substances, is associated with higher risk of CKD. During a median follow-up of 24 years, nearly 5000 of these people developed CKD.

“We want to raise public awareness regarding the concept of ultra-processed foods and their negative impact on health,” said study co-author Casey M. Rebholz, PhD, MS, MNSP, MPH, of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The consumption of ultra-processed foods has been common in the U.S. food supply and more evidence has linked ultra-processed food consumption with adverse health outcomes.”

Examples of ultra-processed food are carbonated soft drinks, sweet, fatty, or salty packaged snacks, candies, mass-produced packaged breads, cookies, cakes, margarine, cereals, instant soups and noodles, and processed meat and cheese.

“In our study, we found a 24 percent higher risk of incident chronic kidney disease in the group of people who had the highest consumption of ultra-processed foods versus the group that had the lowest consumption of ultra-processed foods,” Dr. Rebholz said. “We found that each additional serving of ultra-processed foods was associated with 5 percent higher risk of incident chronic kidney disease. Replacing one serving per day of ultra-processed food with minimally processed food was associated with 6 percent lower risk of incident chronic kidney disease. Of the specific foods classified as ultra-processed, we found that sugar-sweetened beverages and meats were significantly associated with higher risk of incident chronic kidney disease.”

"It is increasingly apparent that food is medicine: the right diet can prevent kidney disease, but some foods, especially in large quantities, may actually cause kidney disease,” said NKF Chief Scientific Officer Kerry Willis, PhD. “In this study, there was a direct correlation between the amount of UPF consumed and CKD risk. That should be concerning to everyone—physicians, patients, parents, and public health officials.” 

The study results provide justification for physicians to advise their patients to limit the consumption of ultra-processed foods as a proactive effort to prevent kidney disease, according to the authors of the study.

“For next steps, we are exploring potential biomarkers of ultra-processed food consumption, in order to have a more objective measure, as well as to provide insights into the underlying mechanism through which ultra-processed foods may be harmful to the kidneys,” Dr. Rebholz said.

The study paper will be available as open access at AJKD at https://www.ajkd.org/article/S0272-63862200648-5/fulltext. For more information on CDK, visit www.kidney.org.

About Kidney Disease

In the United States, 37 million adults are estimated to have kidney disease, also known as chronic kidney disease (CKD)—and approximately 90 percent don’t know they have it.  1 in 3 adults in the U.S. are at risk for kidney disease.  Risk factors for kidney disease include: diabeteshigh blood pressureheart diseaseobesity,and family history. People of Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American, or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander descent are at increased risk for developing the disease. Black/African American people are more than 4 times as likely as White people to have kidney failure.  Hispanics/Latinos are 1.3 times more likely than non-Hispanics to have kidney failure.

About the National Kidney Foundation

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is the largest, most comprehensive, and longstanding patient-centric organization dedicated to the awareness, prevention, and treatment of kidney disease in the U.S. For more information about NKF, visit www.kidney.org