As per a vital study published in Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, the degree of food processing significantly contributes to the sugar intakes of families with young children. The study, led by Ashraf Rahbika et al., focused on Canadian preschool-aged children and their parents, revealing a strong link between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and increased sugar intake. This discovery underscores the importance of developing dietary guidelines that are sensitive to the processing level of foods, potentially influencing both policy and personal choices to foster healthier eating habits.

With a substantial portion of calories consumed in modern diets coming from ultra-processed foods, the study published with the doi: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2023.11.010, provides groundbreaking insights into the nutritional patterns within family units. The article, aptly titled “The degree of food processing contributes to sugar intakes in families with preschool-aged children,” demonstrates the concerning relationship between processed foods and excessive sugar consumption in both parents and their children. Specifically, the study draws from the data of 242 families, including 267 preschool-aged children and 365 parents, part of the Guelph Family Health Study.

Methods Employed

The researchers employed the web-based Automated Self-Administered 24-h Dietary Assessment Tool (ASA24-Canada-2016) to appraise dietary intake, classifying foods according to the NOVA Food Classification System. This system categorizes foods into four types: unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods. The assessment included evaluation not only of the total sugar intake but also of free sugars, those not bound within the structure of food.


One of the striking results of the study was the sheer magnitude of the energy contribution from ultra-processed foods – 44.3% for parents and 41.3% for children, a statistic that aligns with the growing concern over such dietary choices. The linear regression models and generalized estimating equations used revealed a positive association of ultra-processed food consumption with both total and free sugar intakes in both parents and children. For parents, every unit increase in ultra-processed food intake was associated with a 0.05% increase in total sugars and a 0.11% increase in free sugars. The children exhibited a more heightened response, with corresponding increases of 0.10% for total sugars and 0.16% for free sugars.

Furthermore, the intake of unprocessed or minimally processed foods was inversely associated with free sugar intake, suggesting that a diet centered on less processed options could mitigate sugar consumption. Additionally, the study found weak but significant correlations between the dietary patterns of parents and their children, particularly concerning the intake of processed culinary ingredients and ultra-processed foods. This finding hints at the role that parental eating habits could play in shaping the dietary preferences and health trajectories of children.


The study’s findings are highly relevant in an age where the prevalence of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases is on the rise. It provides a clear impetus for fostering dietary patterns that emphasize unprocessed or minimally processed foods while reducing reliance on ultra-processed options. The study not only contributes to a better scientific understanding of the dietary dynamics within family contexts but also serves as a clarion call for nutrition policy and guidelines that promote healthful eating from an early age.

The study authors highlight how these insights could inform interventions aimed at reducing sugar intake and countering the pervasive presence of ultra-processed foods in modern diets. The message is particularly poignant for parents, serving as a reminder that their dietary choices could directly impact their children’s health.


1. Ultra-Processed Foods
2. Sugar Intake Children
3. Healthy Eating Habits
4. Dietary Patterns Families
5. Nutrition Policy Development


1. Rahbika, A., Duncan, A. M., Darlington, G., Buchholz, A. C., Haines, J., & Ma, D. W. L. (2024). The degree of food processing contributes to sugar intakes in families with preschool-aged children. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, 59, 37-47. doi: 10.1016/j.clnesp.2023.11.010

2. Monteiro, C. A., Cannon, G., Levy, R. B., Moubarac, J.-C., Jaime, P. C., Martins, A. P., Canella, D., Louzada, M. L., & Parra, D. (2016). NOVA. The star shines bright. World Nutrition, 7(1-3), 28-38.

3. Poti, J. M., Braga, B., & Qin, B. (2017). Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health—Processing or Nutrient Content? Current Obesity Reports, 6(4), 420–431. doi: 10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4

4. Marrón-Ponce, J. A., Sánchez-Pimienta, T. G., Louzada, M. L., & Batis, C. (2019). Energy contribution of NOVA food groups and sociodemographic determinants of ultra-processed food consumption in the Mexican population. Public Health Nutrition, 22(2), 293–303. doi: 10.1017/S1368980018002784

5. López-Olmedo, N., Popkin, B. M., & Taillie, L. S. (2020). The socioeconomic distribution of ultra-processed food consumption among US adults in 2015-2016. Journal of Nutrition, 150(3), 520-528. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxz298


In conclusion, the study by Ashraf Rahbika et al. articulates a crystal-clear relationship between food processing levels and sugar consumption in families, honing in on the previously underexplored area of preschool-aged children. The evidence highlights the need for nutritional strategies that prioritize whole and minimally processed foods, which could promote better health outcomes and prevent the early onset of diet-related diseases. It’s an important contribution to the burgeoning body of evidence suggesting that the degree of food processing is a critical dimension in addressing public health nutrition challenges.