Animal Study Finds Ultraprocessed Foods Contribute to Poor Bone Growth Interview with:

Efrat Monsonego Ornan, Ph.D  Head of School of Nutritional Sciences Institute of Biochemistry and Nutrition  The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture,  Food and Environment  The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Prof. Monsonego Ornan

Efrat Monsonego Ornan, Ph.D 
Head of School of Nutritional Sciences
Institute of Biochemistry and Nutrition
The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture,
Food and Environment
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem What is the background for this study?

Response: Food supplies in recent decades have been dominated by heavily processed, ready-to-eat products. Essentially, 75% of all world food sales are of processed foods. Over the past 30 years, children’s ultra-processed food intake has increased markedly, with 50% of the children in the US consuming these foods. Only in the US does UPF comprise 58% of energy intake, of which 90% is derived from added sugars. This reflects children’s excessive consumption of food and drink that are high in fat and refined sugars but do not provide appropriate levels of the proteins, vitamins and minerals required for growth.

The negative health outcomes of excessive consumption of Ultra-processed food are well known, include obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, and considered as the current world epidemic; the fact that children, during their postnatal development period (birth to adolescent), are the target of the Ultra-processed food industry is very disturbing in terms of public health. Bone development and growth are the characteristic phenomena of the childhood period. Yet, in spite of the huge importance of nutrition to bone development, the impact of Ultra-processed food consumption on skeleton development during childhood has never been studied directly, and this was the purpose of our study.

To this end, we used young rats which are an excellent pre-clinical model for growth and fed them with either the recommended diet for their age or  a diet comprised of a typical Ultra-processed meal (a roll, hamburger, tomatoes, lettuce, ketchup and French fries) and a caloric soft drink. What are the main findings?

Response: In this paper we show, for the first time, that young rats fed exclusively with ultra processed food suffer from severe growth retardation due to damage to their growth plates and bones.

The bone phenotypes in these young animals were astonishing. Three weeks on the ultra processed  diet were enough to create a sieve-like appearance of the bone and dramatic reduction in bone mineral density. Not surprisingly, the mechanical strength of these bones was less than half of that found in healthy bones meaning a high susceptibility for fractures. Since the growth plate serves as “the engine” of the growing bone, we analyzed them in great details. Growth plates of the rats that were fad the ultra processed food demonstrated vast and unique disturbance, characterised by a mass of avascular non-mineralized cartilage lesions. These distinctive lesions clearly explicate the growth retardation we find as well as the poor quality of the bones. Altogether, our data highlights a yet unknown serious implication of ultraprocessed diets during childhood beyond the known metabolic effects. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our findings are critical because we know that children and adolescents consume these foods on a very regular basis to the extent that 50 percent of children in the United States are ingesting them each and every day.

When Carlos Monteiro, one of the world’s leading experts on nutrition, said that there is no such thing as a healthy ultra-processed food, he was clearly right.  Even if we reduce fats, carbs nitrates and other known harmful substances, these foods still possess their damaging attributes.  Every part of the body is prone to this damage and certainly those systems that remain in the critical stages of development. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: We are currently dressing many other related issues, it it possible to rescue these phenotypes by various interventions?

I have no conflicts of interest, the research was funded by the Israeli science foundations that support curiosity driven research.


Zaretsky, J., Griess-Fishheimer, S., Carmi, A. et al. Ultra-processed food targets bone quality via endochondral ossification. Bone Res 914 (2021).



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Last Updated on April 20, 2021 by Marie Benz MD FAAD