Fattening foods can be addictive in the same way as nicotine or even
heroin, says PSYCHOLOGY TODAY magazine, citing the Director of the
National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA], and joining many other
mainstream media in reporting this finding.
In "Addiction and Pleasure: A Radical New View," the December 2004 issue
of PSYCHOLOGY TODAY reports, after discussing how addicts "enjoy the
rush of addictive drugs," that "obesity may involve similar malfunctions
in the dopamine systems. . . . Like addicts, overeaters may be
compensating for a sluggish dopamine system by turning to the one thing
that gets their neurons pumping."
Earlier, the British science magazine NEW SCIENTIST reported that "there
is a growing body of evidence" that "fats and simple sugars can act on
the brain the same way as nicotine and heroin." It reports on numerous
experiments in which lab animals addicted to fattening foods suffered
withdrawal symptoms, how chemicals in the brain can be altered to create
or cure obesity, how the brains of human addicts react the same way to
drugs as the brains of the morbidly obese, how baby rats fed fattening
foods virtually always grow up to be fat adults, etc. http://banzhaf.net/docs/newsci.html
PSYCHOLOGY TODAY also reported: "It's a mark of changing times -- and
more sophisticated science -- that the head of the National Institute on
Drug Abuse is thinking about doughnuts as well as heroin. Just as
blaming drug addiction on moral weakness was a short sighted and
unscientific way of framing a social problem, [NIDA head] Volkow
believes that focusing solely on metabolism, or blaming fat people for
overindulgence and gluttony, are intellectual dead ends. 'What motivates
us to eat is clearly much more than hunger,' she says. 'We need to
expand the way we think about eating.'"
PSYCHOLOGY TODAY is only the latest of many major publications to warn
about the addictive effects of fast food; a clear indication, says
Banzhaf, that the evidence is now strong enough to at least require a
warning to potential consumers. For example:
* The WASHINGTON POST has reported: "That chance observation has led to
tantalizing new insights into the underlying reasons why some people
overeat and have such a hard time shedding pounds, and the provocative
question of whether food can be an 'addiction.' . . . Addiction and
obesity experts stress that both problems are extremely complex and in
all likelihood have multiple environmental and biological causes. But
many experts agree that they appear to have certain intriguing
similarities. 'What characterizes addiction is the compulsion: A person
may consciously not want to take it anymore, but the drive is so intense
the person takes it anyway,' said Nora Volkow, director of the National
Institute on Drug Abuse. 'That's what we see with cocaine and heroin.
What's interesting is that in pathological overeating, you see the same
syndrome -- a compulsion to eat an enormous amount of food.'" [10/7/03]
* In an article entitled "Are We Turning Our Children Into 'Fat'
Junkies?," THE GUARDIAN states that "one in 10 British children under
five is obese. Health experts blame sedentary lifestyles - and even
bigger food portions - but new research suggests that a diet high in fat
and sugar may trigger the same addictive cravings as tobacco or drugs."
* REUTERS reported, in an article entitled "Chocolate Cake Addiction:
It's Real," that "People who say they are addicted to chocolate or pizza
may not be exaggerating, according to U.S.-based scientists. . . . The
researchers scanned the brains of normal, hungry people and found their
brains lit up when they saw and smelled their favorite foods, in much
the same way as the brains of cocaine addicts when they think about
their next snort." It cites an article in NeuroImage, A Journal of Brain
* Similarly, CNN has reported that a "brain scan study of normal, hungry
people showed their brains lit up when they saw and smelled their
favorite foods in much the same way as the brains of cocaine addicts
when they think about their next snort "
* Even the WASHINGTON TIMES, which editorially opposes fat law suits,
reported on the growing evidence for one of the key legal theories under
which such legal actions will likely be brought: In "Chronic Overeating
Called an Addiction," the newspaper said: "Just as federal health
officials defined obesity as an illness, researchers at the University
of Florida say mounting evidence suggests chronic overeating may be a
substance abuse disorder and should be considered an addiction. 'What's
the difference between someone who's lost control over alcohol and
someone who's lost control over good food? When you look at their brains
and brain responses, the differences are not very significant,' said Dr.
Mark Gold, chief of addiction medicine at UF's College of Medicine."
The WASHINGTON TIMES continued: "'Food might be the substance in a
substance abuse disorder that we see today as obesity,' Dr. Gold said. .
. . Dr. Gold was an early proponent of the "food-as-drug" model. The
medical community considered the idea radical a decade ago, he said, but
many addiction specialists give it serious consideration today. He said
the change in thinking occurred as a result of advances in imaging
technology, neurochemistry and other fields that have enabled
researchers to map rodents' brain pathways and show how food and drugs
evoke similar responses."
* The OBSERVER has reported: “New research suggests that a diet high in
fat and sugar may trigger the same addictive cravings as tobacco or drugs”.
* THE ADVERTISER says that “Snacking on junk food as addictive as heroin
- food could be as addictive as cigarettes or heroin.”
* THE AUSTRALIAN notes that “Scientists have found that high doses of
fat and sugar in fast and processed foods can be as addictive as
nicotine -- and even hard drugs. The research found that foods high in
fat and sugar can cause significant changes in brain biochemistry
similar to those from drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Once hooked, the
researchers said, many people found it almost impossible to switch back
to a healthy diet, often leading to obesity.”
* THE INDEPENDENT (LONDON) said: “High doses of fat and sugar in
processed food can be as addictive as hard drugs, according to
scientists. Research has revealed that the consumption of fast food can
trigger chemical reactions in the brain which can lead to overeating. It
suggests that the biochemical changes caused by large quantities of fat
and sugar are comparable to the addictive reactions caused by taking
drugs such as heroin and cocaine It means many people find it hard to
revert to a healthy diet after ingesting fast or processed food which
often leads to obesity, according to scientists at the Rockefeller
University in New York.”
* The SUNDAY TELEGRAPH of London, in an article entitled, “REVEALED:
FOOD COMPANIES KNEW PRODUCTS WERE ADDICTIVE,” reported that
“Multinational food companies have known for years about research that
suggests many of their products trigger chemical reactions in the brain
which lead people to overeat, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
Scientists working for Nestle and Unilever have been quietly
investigating how certain foods, such as chocolate biscuits, burgers and
snacks, make people binge-eat, thereby fueling obesity. . . . scientists
working for the industry have said manufacturers fear they have created
foods that undermine the body's abilities to control intake and are
battling to find a solution. 'We have created a bio-chemical monster,'" one said.
"This growing evidence -- now being increasingly reported in scientific
and mainstream media -- that eating some fattening foods can cause
addictive reactions in the brain just like nicotine strongly suggests
that there is now enough scientific evidence to warrant at least a
warning about possible addictive effects," says Prof. Banzhaf.
He notes that the legal duty to warn or inform customers does not arise
only when evidence of possible harm is conclusive and generally accepted
by the scientific community. Rather, it occurs whenever the information
might be relevant to a reasonable person making a purchasing decision.
That’s why, for example, we see many notices saying simply that “some
evidence suggests that . . “ or that “animal studies indicate that X
might cause cancer,” etc.
It is also the same reason that doctors must warn patients of even a
remote risk suggested by a single scientific study, even if the study
hasn’t yet been replicated and/or is apparently contradicted by other
studies or by conventional scientific or medical wisdom. In short, such
notice is required to alert customers to the mere possibility of a risk
so that they can evaluate the weight of the evidence for themselves and
then knowledgeably exercise their own personal responsibility.
Banzhaf says that several courts have held that cigarette manufacturers
may be held liable for failing to disclose that their products might
produce addictive effects, even though the general health dangers of
smoking were so well known as to be regarded as common knowledge. He
suggests that food companies can avoid the same legal effect by posting
warnings or "health advisories" about this possibility.
He notes that McDonald's is already warning customers not to eat at
McDonald's more than once a week (at least in France), and that Pepsico
-- the largest manufacturer of what many call junk food -- is telling
people to eat their snack foods only occasionally. http://banzhaf.net/mcad.html
PROFESSOR JOHN F. BANZHAF III Professor of Public Interest Law
Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor
George Washington University Law School
2000 H Street, NW, Washington, DC 200006, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418