Unhealthy food is like a drug

A 2010 study conducted in the USA has finally found a link between eating unhealthy ‘cafeteria-type’ food and drug addictive behaviour. The study, which was conducted on rats, found that obesity goes hand-in-hand with a breakdown in the circuits of the brain that control pleasure responses – the very same changes that are seen when rats are given heroin or cocaine.

Lead researcher from The Scripps Research Institute in Florida, Paul Kenny, explains, “Overconsumption of highly pleasurable foods triggers addiction-like neuroadaptive responses in brain reward circuits, driving the development of compulsive eating.”

The study found that the addiction was so profound that the rats would continue to eat the unhealthy palatable food despite the fact that they would receive a negative response in the form of an electric shock. And even more, when the food was taken from the rats and they were offered a healthier ‘salad diet’, they simply refused and chose rather to starve themselves for up to two weeks.

Children, it seems, are on the short end of this conundrum, as ‘ready-made’ and ‘quick and easy’ food is hardly ever healthy and would, as I am sure you will agree, fall under the ‘caffeteria-style’ umbrella.

The question is, are time-and-cash-strapped parents trading their children’s health for easier, quicker and cheaper ways in which to prepare food for their families? American Professor of Medicine, John Banzhaf seems to think so.

Two years ago, he started legal action against fast-food conglomerate MacDonald’s, who he claims target young children by selling addictive food. He believes that suppliers of unhealthy fast-food will be targeted the same way in which tobacco companies were roughly a decade ago.

The good news? Now you know why your toddler won’t eat anything but sausage and chips… and now you can make an informed choice on behalf of your children.

As we’ve said before, we don’t always bring you popular subjects, but rather bring you knowledge in the hopes that when parents know better, they do better.

Source: Nature Neuroscience
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1038/nn.2519
“Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats”
Authors: P.M. Johnson, P.J. Kenny
A full copy of the paper is freely available here.

The Practica Team
parents who know better, do better

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