The humble sausage roll has been named and shamed as a ‘gateway food’ to obesity.

The pastry turns teenagers on to unhealthy eating – acting like a drug, according to new research.

‘Ultra-processed foods are designed to be hyper-palatable – or engineered to be as addictive as possible,’ said lead author Maria Balhara, a student at Broward College in Florida.

‘They’re also cheap and convenient – which makes them hard to resist. Most people are eating too many of these foods without realising it,’

The findings were based on 315 boys and girls aged 13 to 19 from 12 local American high schools. The teenagers were asked to fill a survey about their intake of 12 ultra-processed products during the eight weeks between February and April 2022.

The study found eating more pies or sausage rolls increased consumption of other ultra-processed foods by 12 per cent.

Confectionery and frozen desserts which are full of sugar, were linked to 31 and 11 percent rises, respectively.

Candy, pastries and frozen desserts were found to act as a possible ‘gateway’ to consuming other processed products.

Ms Balhara, who is the study’s lead author is a 16 years old who completed the the study while attending high school.

‘For teenagers whose consumption of ultra-processed foods has not yet been established, certain gateway foods such as candy, store-bought pastries and frozen desserts should be avoided, since increased consumption of these foods appears to lead to increased consumption of other processed foods,’ said Ms Balhara.

Participants in the study who changed amounts, either up or down, were more likely to alter eating habits overall. Cutting back on processed meats, white bread or biscuits was associated with a drop in consumption of all other ultra-processed foods.

‘The good news is even small changes – such as reducing how often you eat a few gateway foods – may reduce overall consumption of unhealthy foods and have a big impact on your overall health,’

The sausage roll is a staple of British and Irish diets. The modern sausage roll is thought to have originated in 19th Century France and grew in popularity in London in the early 1800’s as a cheap street food. Today, they’re known as a quintessential British snack.

Ultra-processed foods like bacon butties, burgers, pizzas and ready meals to biscuits, cakes and white bread make up half the average Briton’s diet.

Eating too much of it can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, cancer, diabetes, dementia and premature death.

The study also found 57 per cent of volunteers believed that ultra-processed food consumption rose after pandemic restrictions were lifted while 43 per cent believed it fell.

‘While this is a small, preliminary study, it’s an important topic to continue to investigate and help us understand ways we can influence dietary behaviours to promote optimal cardiovascular health for all ages,’ said Dr Donna Arnett, former president of the American Heart Association of the University of South Carolina.

Three years ago a study by French scientists found eating too much ultra-processed food knocks decades off life expectancy.

A study of almost 45,000 people found deaths from cancer, heart disease and other illnesses were linked to high consumption.

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