First-of-its-Kind NIH Study Reveals Heavily Processed Food Cause Weight Gain

May 20, 2019 | Diet, Lifestyle, Ultra-Processed Food


In a first-of-its-kind study, the National Institutes of Health sponsored a small-scale study of 20 adult volunteers, conducted by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), to examine the effects of ultra-processed foods as defined by the NOVA classification system. This system considers food “ultra-processed” if they have ingredients predominantly found in industrial food manufacturing, including hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, flavoring agents and emulsifiers.

The study admitted 20 healthy adult volunteers, 10 male and 10 female to the NIH Clinical Center for one continuous month and, in random order for two weeks on each diet, provided them with meals made up of ultra-processed foods or meals with minimally processed foods. The ultra-processed and unprocessed meals had the same amounts of calories, sugars, fiber, fat and carbohydrates and participants could eat as much or as little as they wanted.

The participants eating ultra-processed foods ate more calories and gained more weight than when they ate a minimally processed diet, according to the results from the study.  The difference occurred even through meals provided to the volunteers in both the ultra-processed and minimally processed diets had the same number of calories and macronutrients.  The results were published in Cell Metabolism.

The nation is facing a growing recognition that we are experiencing a health crisis of epic proportions—obesity. Its comorbidities are significant and striking—from risks of diabetes and arthritis to cardiovascular disease.  A massive movement must sweep the nation to change our lifestyle, our patterns, our food.

Lead Research/Investigator

Kevin D. Hall, PhD 


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