Highly processed foods can be considered addictive like tobacco products
Abstract: Based on established criteria for tobacco addiction, a new study shows that highly processed foods can be addictive.
Source: University of Michigan
Can highly processed foods be addictive?
It’s a question researchers have debated for years because unhealthy diets are often fueled by foods loaded with refined carbohydrates and added fats.
To find a solution, a new analysis by the University of Michigan and Virginia Tech took the criteria used in the 1988 US Surgeon General’s report that found tobacco addictive and applied it to food.
Based on the criteria set for tobacco, the results show that highly processed foods can be addictive, said lead author Ashley Gearhardt, associate professor of psychology at the University of Zagreb, and Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech.
In fact, the addiction potential of foods such as chips, cookies, ice cream, and french fries may be a key factor contributing to the high public health costs associated with a food environment dominated by cheap, accessible, and highly processed foods sold on the market. the researchers said.
Research, published in the current issue of the journal Addictionoffers evidence that highly processed foods meet the same criteria used to identify cigarettes as addictive:
- They trigger compulsive use when people can’t stop or cut back (even if they’re facing life-threatening illnesses like diabetes and heart disease)
- They can change the way we feel and cause changes in the brain that are similar in magnitude to the nicotine in tobacco products
- They are very strengthening
- They trigger intense urges and cravings
“It should be noted that there is no biomarker in the brain that tells us if something is addictive or not,” Gearhardt said. “Identifying that tobacco products are addictive really comes down to these four criteria, (which) have withstood decades of scientific evaluation. Highly processed foods meet each of these criteria.”
DiFeliceantonio said the ability of highly processed foods to quickly deliver unnaturally high doses of refined carbohydrates and fats is key to their addictive potential.
Highly processed foods contain complex substances that cannot be simplified to a single chemical agent acting through a specific central mechanism. The same can be said for industrial tobacco products, which contain thousands of chemicals, including nicotine, Gearhardt said.
When the Surgeon General’s report was released more than 30 years ago, tobacco products were the number one cause of preventable death. But many people and tobacco manufacturers have resisted accepting their addictive and harmful nature.
“It has delayed the implementation of effective strategies to address this public health crisis, which has cost millions of lives,” said Gearhardt, who directs UM’s Food and Addiction Science and Treatment Laboratory.
“When we realized that tobacco products are addictive, we realized that smoking is not only a choice of adults, but that people get used to it and cannot stop even when they really want to. The same thing seems to be happening with highly processed foods, and this is particularly worrying because children are the main target of advertisements for these products.”
A poor diet dominated by highly processed foods now contributes as much to preventable deaths as cigarettes. Similar to tobacco products, the food industry designs its highly processed foods to be highly rewarding and hard to resist, the researchers said.
“It’s time to stop thinking of highly processed foods as just food, but as highly refined, potentially addictive substances,” DiFeliceantonio said.
About this news about food and addiction research
Original research: Open access.
“Highly processed foods can be considered addictive based on established scientific criteria” by Ashley N. Gearhardt et al. Addiction
Highly processed foods can be considered addictive based on established scientific criteria
There is growing evidence that there may be an addictive phenotype to eating. There is considerable debate about whether highly processed foods (HPF; foods with refined carbohydrates and/or added fat) are addictive. The lack of scientifically based criteria for assessing the addictive nature of HPF hindered the resolution of this debate.
The most recent scientific debate regarding the addictive potential of the substance centers around tobacco. In 1988, the Surgeon General issued a report identifying tobacco products as addictive based on three primary scientific criteria: their ability to (1) cause highly controlled or compulsive use, (2) cause psychoactive effects (ie, mood changes) through their effect on brain and (3) reinforce behavior. Scientific advances have now identified the ability of tobacco products to (4) induce strong urges or cravings as another important indicator of addictive potential. Here, we propose that these four criteria provide scientifically valid benchmarks that can be used to assess the dependence of HPFs. We then review the evidence on whether HPFs meet each criterion. Finally, we consider the implications of labeling HPF as a dependency.
Highly processed food (HPF) may meet the criteria to be labeled as an addictive substance under the standards set for tobacco products. The addictive potential of HPFs may be a key factor contributing to the high public health costs associated with a dietary environment dominated by cheap, available, and highly marketed HPFs.