Dementia is a general term for the loss of cognitive functioning, such as the loss of thought, memory, and logic processes that interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. In a recent study published by Goncalves and colleagues in JAMA Neurology, a higher intake of ultraprocessed foods was found to be associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline. Ultraprocessed foods contain many added ingredients and are highly manipulated. Examples of these foods include frozen meals, fast food, soda, and sweets. GlobalData epidemiologists expect that the results of this study may prompt individuals to consider implementing healthier dietary lifestyles. 

In the study by Goncalves and colleagues, a multi-center prospective cohort study was conducted between 2008 and 2017; 10,775 participants aged 35 to 74 years were recruited across six Brazilian cities and part of the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health. Cognitive performance was measured over time by evaluating changes in immediate and delayed word recall, word recognition, phonemic and semantic verbal fluency tests, and the Trail-Making Test B version (a neuropsychological test that measures visual attention and task switching). During a median follow-up of eight years, individuals who consumed the highest amount of ultraprocessed foods had a nearly 30% faster rate of global cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of executive function decline (necessary for the cognitive control of behavior) compared with those who ate the least amount of ultraprocessed foods.

In Brazil, GlobalData epidemiologists forecast nearly 905,000 diagnosed prevalent cases of dementia, which are expected to rise to 1.2 million cases by the end of 2028 in men and women aged 60 years and older. While the results of this study do not prove cause and effect, the robust study methodology and large sample size are sufficient to conclude that ultraprocessed foods should be limited to avoid potential negative impacts to an individual’s cognitive function. GlobalData epidemiologists suggest that additional research be conducted to further support, elaborate on, and replicate these findings in order to come up with a targeted and actionable public health initiative to reduce the consumption of ultraprocessed foods.