Ultra-processed foods have known negative implications for health; however, their effect on skeletal development has never been explored. Here, we show that young rats fed ultra-processed food rich in fat and sugar suffer from growth retardation due to lesions in their tibial growth plates. The bone mineral density decreases significantly, and the structural parameters of the bone deteriorate, presenting a sieve-like appearance in the cortices and poor trabecular parameters in long bones and vertebrae. This results in inferior mechanical performance of the entire bone with a high fracture risk. RNA sequence analysis of the growth plates demonstrated an imbalance in extracellular matrix formation and degradation and impairment of proliferation, differentiation and mineralization processes. Our findings highlight, for the first time, the severe impact of consuming ultra-processed foods on the growing skeleton. This pathology extends far beyond that explained by the known metabolic effects, highlighting bone as a new target for studies of modern diets.
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