By acknowledging that certain types of processed foods have the properties of addictive substances, we may be able to help improve global health.Ashley Gearhardt, a University of Michigan professor and lead author of a recent study that found ultra-processed foods – such as chips, soda, and ice cream – may be as addictive as alcohol or cigarettes.
Why It Matters: Researchers analyzed 281 studies in 36 countries and found that ultra-processed foods (UPFs) may be just as addictive as alcohol or cigarettes. The combination of fats and refined carbohydrates that are often found in UPFs seem to impact the brain’s reward system, “which may increase the addictive potential of these foods,” the study shares. While food addiction does not formally classify as a mental illness, researchers found that an estimated 14% of adults and 12% of children are addicted to UPFs; “This reported prevalence is similar to the levels of addiction seen for other legal substances in adults (eg. 14% for alcohol and 18% for tobacco), but the level of implied addiction in children is unprecedented.”
Social, clinical, and policy implications of ultra-processed food addiction (British Medical Journal)
by Emily Hooker, based in Texas