According to a new study published this past Sunday in “Nature Neuroscience,” junk food can be as addictive as cocaine or nicotine. In addition, the study says that these foods can also lead to compulsive eating and obesity.
Using rats, researchers found that high-calorie foods can trigger addiction-like responses in the brain, turning rats into compulsive eaters. These overweight rats had decreased levels of a specific dopamine reception, as has been reported in humans addicted to drugs.
Although researchers have been able to find these statements to be true about rats, they are unable to directly relate them to human behavior and activity at this time. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned. Take a look at these startling statistics:
- In 2000, Americans consumed an average of 2,700 calories per day. That’s an increase of 24.5 percent, or about 530 calories, over the average intake in 1970.
- Technomics recently found that more than one-half of consumers snack at least once a day.
- The United States has the world’s highest number of McDonald’s restaurants per capita. Americans also die of obesity more often than any other nation, with more deaths than Mexico, Germany, Spain, Austria and Canada combined.
- In 2006, the average American child consumed 586 calories from snacks (up from 418 in 1970).
- People in the USA consume about 16% of their daily calories from sugars that are added to all foods.
How can we protect ourselves? Just monitor your habits; moderation is key. According to one researcher from the junk food study first mentioned, Paul Kenny of The Scripps Research Institute in Florida, eating one or two foods with high calorie counts is not the problem. “What we’re seeing in our animals is very similar to what you’d see in humans who overindulge,” he said. “It seemed that it was okay, from what we could tell, to enjoy snack foods, but if you repeatedly overindulge, that’s where the problem comes in.”