Study found Oreo cookies as addictive as drugs

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Connecticut College students and a professor of psychology have found that “America’s favorite cookie” Oreo is just as addictive as cocaine. At least for lab rats. And not that it is scientifically significant or even relevant, but  just like most of us, humans, the rats in the study went for the creamy middle first.

The study was designed to shed light on the potential addictiveness of high-fat/ high-sugar foods.

On one side of a maze, researchers would give hungry rats Oreos and on the other, rice cakes were used as a control. Then, they would give the rats the option of spending time on either side of the maze and measure how long they would spend on the side where they were typically fed Oreos.

They compared the results of the Oreo and rice cake test with results from rats that were given an injection of cocaine or morphine (known addictive substances) on one side of the maze and a shot of saline on the other.

Researchers found that rats formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment. They also found that eating cookies activated more neurons in the brain’s “pleasure center” than exposure to drugs of abuse.

Such results do lend support to the hypothesis of high-fat/high-sugar food addictiveness and may therefore be relevant to human public health issues. Indeed, such foods are mostly low-priced and heavily marketed in low-income neighborhoods. They’re known for being unhealthy but there’s this hard-to-fight urge to eat them anyway, greatly worsened by wide both accessibility and affordability. Obesity being a very pressing issue among communities with lower socioeconomic statuses, it is fair to think of junk food as a likely, strong contributing cause to the current obesity epidemic. And in that sense, poor eating habits can have effects as dramatic as those from drugs.

The research will be presented next month at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego, CA.


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* Up for some thought-sharing on this topic?  

Based on both personal and collective experience with junk food, we probably all agree on the addictive aspect of junk foods. Such addiction is being massively and thoughtlessly leveraged by processed food manufacturers via a common magical recipe: high in fat, sugar, sodium (either all or combos) products that get consumers to come back for more. If sold cheaply in places where people cannot really afford healthier but more expensive foods (that may also request preparation time vs the immediate gratification of a pack of Oreos), then you have a business model, a careless one, but a strong, profitable one. Targeted consumers can’t stop feeding their sugar/fat addiction and don’t feel they have that many other food options anyway. Also not everyone realizes that calories are not all equal so a meal becomes a meal, wether junk meal, or healthy meal. Some brands push the irony even further; Remember the Lay’s potato chip ad? “Betcha can’t eat just one!”?

Personal discipline, self control as well as socio-economic factors should be factored in too. Addictions come in different shapes and sizes, and not all of them are fatal. At least in the short term. But all of them are unhealthy. And now that high sugar and fat foods, besides being bad for us, have been proven addictive, it should not be so easy to get some and it should not be authorized to build a damaging business model off of consumers’ weakness.

Now if only we could conversely find how to make our brain listen to reason more than addiction…. Or if the possible human health implications of this finding could slow down the sales of Oreos, even just a little bit… Nice, but not counting on it.

  • Do you eat junk foods like Oreo cookies on a regular basis and have you noticed similar addiction or do you feel you are in total control of the quantity you ingest?
  • Do you think such addictive power should be countered by some sort of consumption limitation for the very sake of consumers, especially weaker ones?

Let us know… 


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