Posted on October 2, 2023
Sapien Labs report looks at the impact of ultra-processed food on mental wellbeing

Washington, D.C.– A global study of ~300,00 participants out today from Sapien Lab looks at the self-reported frequency of ultra-processed food consumption and its relationship to the full breadth of mental health symptoms and aggregate mental wellbeing. These are the key findings:

  • The mental wellbeing of the population shifts towards worse outcomes on various dimensions with increasing frequency of ultra-processed food (UPF) consumption, the most prominent of which is in the domain of Adaptability & Resilience
  • The key symptoms that get worse with increasing UPF consumption are appetite regulation, feelings of sadness, distress and hopelessness, as well as challenges with controlling thoughts and emotions (e.g. unwanted thoughts, anger)
  • These results cannot be explained by differences in income or exercise
  • The changes with increased UPF consumption are distinct from the negative effects of smartphones that we have previously reported and may be additive in nature
  • The US and UK have the highest prevalence of frequent UPF consumption and are among the lowest in terms of mental wellbeing relative to other countries
  • Globally, young adults 18-24 have dramatically worsened mental wellbeing relative to older age groups and consume UPFs substantially more frequently

Altogether, these findings suggest that the more frequently you consume ultra-processed food, the more challenged you become across a broad range of mental function.  In particular, you are likely have diminished adaptability and resilience, more feelings of sadness or hopelessness and greater difficulty controlling your thoughts or emotions.

About the study: 

This study is part of the Global Mind Project, an ongoing survey of global mental wellbeing, conducted by Sapien Labs. The project acquired data through an assessment that queries 47 aspects of mental function on a life impact scale to create an aggregate mental wellbeing score, the Mental Health Quotient or MHQ, as well as scores of various dimensions of mental function.  The assessment can be taken here. In addition, the data from this project is freely available to researchers for noncommercial purpose and access can be requested here.  The Global Mind Project also publishes the annual Mental State of the World Report which can be found here.


Supporting materials:

Report: Ultra-Processed Food Consumption and Mental Wellbeing Outcomes

Associated Data Tables and Statistics

High Resolution Images of Graphs