A new report launched by United European Gastroenterology (UEG) has found that poor nutritional choices, including a high intake of ultra-processed foods and trans-fats, are putting millions of Europeans at an increased risk of a range of chronic digestive diseases, including digestive cancers.

The report, ‘Nutrition and Chronic Digestive Diseases’, was supported by eleven medical associations, patient organisations and NGOs, and canvasses the opinion of a number of leading experts in the fields of nutrition, digestive cancers, liver diseases, functional gastrointestinal disorders and paediatrics.

It outlines how ultra-processed foods, which are often high in fat, added sugar and salt, now frequently contribute to up to half of modern European energy intake and, in some countries, over 75% of mean energy intake - leading to an increased risk of cancer among other digestive diseases.

The study shows that a ’10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet, for example, is associated with a 12% increased overall cancer risk’.

In addition to a raised risk of chronic diseases, high consumption of these foods also increases the prevalence of obesity. The report states that alarmingly, over half (52%) of the EU’s population aged 18 and over is now overweight or obese and one in three of Europe’s school children are estimated to be overweight.

“Obesity, often driven by poor nutritional choices, increases the risk of a range of serious digestive health conditions and causes a significant healthcare burden, high societal costs, misery for patients and, ultimately, shortens lives”, explained Professor Markus Peck, department of Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Klinikum Klagenfurt am Wörthersee, Austria. “Healthy balanced diets and lifestyles can help prevent chronic digestive diseases but the difficulty we face is ensuring our citizens make the right choices in following these lifestyles.”

He continued, “We need the European Commission and national governments to act now on initiatives to change the way in which we buy and consume food. Our aim should be to achieve a European-wide transformation to healthy diets by 2050. This would require the consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to be reduced by more than 50% over the next 30 years.”

The report also makes a number of recommendations in order to reduce the risk and impact of chronic digestive diseases, including consuming less than 5g of salt per day and less than 10% of total daily energy intake of saturated fats.