Ty Beal

The global impact of ultra-processed foods: health risks, dietary patterns, and research and policy implications

Senior Technical Specialist Ty Beal1

1Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, Washington DC, USA

Food processing has many benefits, including removing phytotoxins and improving food safety, bioavailability, and shelf life. Excessive food processing introduces unhealthy characteristics. Ultra-processed foods are industrial formulations made entirely or mostly from substances derived from foods and additives. Many of these ultra-processed foods are excessively processed and have been associated with mortality and noncommunicable diseases. The mechanisms underlying the health risks of ultra-processed foods are poorly understood but may include their low satiety per calorie and high food reward, the displacement of nutrient dense foods that lead to dietary inadequacies, and the introduction of harmful additives that disrupt the microbiome and cause inflammation and oxidative stress. Ultra-processed foods make up most calories in many high-income countries. Individuals in low-income and middle-income countries purchase less ultra-processed foods, but this is rapidly changing. New data from the Diet Quality Questionnaire in the Gallup World Poll in 85 countries reveals the first ever global patterns of ultra-processed food consumption. Urban, wealthier, and more educated individuals and men generally consume the most ultra-processed foods. Future research is needed to better understand the mechanisms that cause ultra-processed foods to be unhealthy. Policies should protect consumers, especially those at greatest risk, from harmful dietary patterns that include excess ultra-processed foods.


Ty Beal, PhD, is a global nutrition and food system scientist dedicated to achieving healthy and sustainable diets for all. Through his research, he examines dietary patterns and their impacts on human health and the environment. His findings have been published in top scientific journals including The Lancet, PNAS, Nature Food, and others. An engaging speaker, Dr. Beal frequently presents his expertise on nutrition and food systems at professional conferences and webinars. He also shares insights with the public, appearing on podcasts and publishing blogs and op-eds that make scientific research accessible. As a Senior Technical Specialist at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), he is responsible for the strategic, technical, and management leadership of the Knowledge Leadership sub-unit supporting food system data and analytics. Dr. Beal received his PhD from the University of California, Davis.