How junk food causes cancer – as Morgan Spurlock, maker of Super Size Me, dies from disease aged 53

The link between junk food and cancer was brought back into focus today following the death of Super Size Me documentary maker Morgan Spurlock, who died from the disease.

His family said Spurlock, 53, succumbed to “complications” of cancer, but did not reveal which type he had or how long he had been battling it.

There is no evidence that his condition was linked to the 2004 film, in which he consumed nothing but McDonald’s meals for a month as a health experiment – even though he suffered a number of health problems in the immediate aftermath.

Reams of research over the past decades have shown that eating lots of processed foods is linked to at least 34 different types of cancer, even in people who are not obese.

Super Size Me received critical acclaim and grossed $22 million at the worldwide box office

After the film's release, McDonald's discontinued the

After the film’s release, McDonald’s discontinued the “supersize” option

Although the link between ultra-processed foods – including fast food, soda, chips, ice cream, sugary cereals and processed meats – and cancer is well established, the exact mechanism is still understood.

One of the ways UPFs can cause cancer is because of their composition. These foods are often high in saturated fat, added sugars and sodium and low in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber.

If we eat too many ultra-processed foods, we may not eat enough of the foods in the diet that we know boost the immune system and help prevent cancer, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Second, consuming these foods regularly can lead to weight gain. Being above a healthy weight increases your risk of developing 13 different cancers, including cancers of the colon, kidney, pancreas, esophagus, endometrium, liver and breast (after menopause) .

A study earlier this year also revealed a possible missing link in how eating junk food increases cancer risk.

The Singapore study found that a substance released when the body breaks down sugary and fatty foods switches off a gene that fights cancer.

It could explain, at least in part, why cancer is becoming so prevalent among young, apparently healthy Americans, especially tumors in the colon.