Thursday, September 2, 2010
Calls for cigarette-style health warnings on junk food that is 'as addictive as heroin and cocaine'
Junk food is as addictive as heroin and cocaine, scientists say.
Studies show that the fat, salt and sugar rush of fast food affects has the same effect on the brain as hard drugs.
The findings have led to calls for cigarette-style health warnings to be placed on boxes and wrappers - and even the suggestion that manufacturers could be sued for knowingly putting people's health at risk.
The research comes as Britain fights a rising tide of obesity, with weight loss surgery alone costing the NHS more than £32million a year.
The idea that junk food is addictive is fast becoming accepted by researchers, says this week's New Scientist.
The first hint came from American studies on rats showing that those fed on syrup developed brain and behaviour changes similar to rodents hooked on morphine.
Crucially, the animals released the pleasure-seeking brain chemical dopamine after every sugar hit - a hallmark of drug addiction
Allowing rats to binge on bacon, sausage, icing and chocolate also caused 'very, very striking' changes to the brain,similar to those seen with cocaine and heroin.
Even electric shocks did not deter them from getting their junk food 'fix'.
And when people are shown pictures of their favourite foods, a decision-making area of the brain called the orbital frontal cortex experiences a surge of dopamine. The same area is activated when cocaine addicts are shown a bag of white power.
New Scientist says: 'There is now compelling evidence that foods high in sugar, fat and salt - as most junk foods are - can alter your brain chemistry in much the same way as highly addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin.'
The food industry says that junk food is only addictive to a 'certain subset of consumers who don't exhibit the discipline required'.
Hank Cardello, a former Coca Cola executive, says solutions include giving tax relief to companies making healthy foods.
He added: 'People aren't going to change their behaviour. To me it's about getting calories of the streets.'