Quadram Institute scientists help inform parliamentary select committee on hidden hunger and ultraprocessed foods

30th May 2024

Quadram Institute chief scientific officer Prof Martin Warren and colleagues have given written evidence to a House of Lords select committee on the societal challenges around food, diet and obesity.

The House of Lords select committee issued a call for evidence on food diet and obesity earlier this year. The committee is considering the role of foods, such as ‘ultra-processed foods’ (UPFs) and foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) in a healthy diet, including how they influence health outcomes.

The committee is also assessing how shifts in behaviours and trends have impacted obesity, how government policies have influenced these shifts, and the role of the industry and the wider public in the public health landscape.

Professor Martin Warren said: “Our research at the Quadram Institute suggests there is another problem at play and that is hidden hunger. Hidden hunger is a paradoxical form of malnutrition where we get more than enough energy from our food but also a shortage of vital micronutrients, ranging from dietary fibre to Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Folate and Iron. These micronutrients are essential to good physical and mental health.”

The mechanics of obesity are not entirely clear but hidden hunger may play a role as deficiency in micronutrients may also drive over-consumption of food as the body seeks to obtain the nutrients it needs (the Nutrient Deficiency Theory of Obesity).  A poor diet may also contribute to inflammation in the gut, further reducing absorption of micronutrients, adversely affecting the gut microbiome, and creating something of a vicious circle in terms of poorer health.

And evidence submitted to the select committee by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) also highlighted translational research on the Norwich Research Park. The UKRI evidence submission cites:

Scientists at the Quadram Institute also highlighted that the very broad definition of UPF is an issue. The definition of UPF were originally designed to enable a general classification of foodstuffs to quantify the effects of consuming intensely processed foods on health in large scale mechanistic studies.

The definitions do not specifically take into account nutritional factors known to be deleterious to health such as high fat, salt and sugar content and requires further, more detailed mechanistic studies into food structure/texture, lack of micronutrients, HFSS, and the presence of additives/contaminants to name but a few.

Related Targets

Targeting food composition

Food Composition

Targeting Future Foods

Future Foods

Related Research Groups

Cat Edwards Group

Cathrina Edwards

Martin Warren

Maria Traka

Related Research Areas

A green background with an illustration of a gut full of microbes.

Food, Microbiome and Health