Labeling foods such as crisps and ice cream as “addictive” could help beat the obesity crisis, according to new research.
The controversial recommendation comes from a major study involving scientists from the United States, Brazil, and Spain, published in Food For Thought, a special edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Their review of 281 studies from 36 different countries found that around one in seven adults (14 percent) and one in eight children (12 percent) worldwide are addicted to ultra-processed food.
Examples of ultra-processed foods include ice cream, ham, sausages, bacon, crisps, mass-produced bread, breakfast cereals and biscuits.
It’s time for an international shift in the way we think about ultra-processed food, say the research team, which included international experts on food addiction, nutrition physiology, gut-brain reward signaling, food policy, behavioral addiction, and eating disorders.
Study corresponding author Professor Ashley Gearhardt of the University of Mich., said: “There is converging and consistent support for the validity and clinical relevance of food addiction.
“By acknowledging that certain types of processed foods have the properties of addictive substances, we may be able to help improve global health,” said Professor Ashley Gearhardt.
“While people can give up smoking, drinking, or gambling, they can’t stop eating,” said co-author Dr. Alexandra DiFeliceantonio.
She said the challenge is defining which foods have the most potential for addiction and why.
But not all foods have the potential for addiction, according to the researchers.
Dr. DiFeliceantonio said: “Most foods that we think of as natural, or minimally processed, provide energy in the form of carbohydrate or fat – but not both.”
The research team gave the example of an apple, salmon, and a chocolate bar. The apple has a carbohydrate to fat ratio of roughly one-to-zero, while the salmon has a ratio of zero-to-one.
By contrast, the chocolate bar has a carb to fat ratio of one-to-one, which appears to increase a food’s addictive potential.
Many ultra-processed foods have higher levels of both,” said Dr. DiFeliceantonio, Assistant Professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in the US.
“That combination has a different effect on the brain.”
The team also called for more research into the role of food additives used in industrial processing.
Their analysis also found that behaviors around ultra-processed food, which are high in refined carbs and added fats, may meet the criteria for diagnosis of substance use disorder in some people.
Such behaviors include less control over intake, intense cravings, symptoms of withdrawal, and continued use despite such consequences as obesity, binge eating disorder, poorer physical and mental health, and lower quality of life.
But the team warned that the global health challenge needs to consider geographic differences.
In some countries, ultra-processed foods are a “needed” source of calories. Even in high-income countries, they say food ‘deserts’ and other factors could limit access to minimally processed foods.
The team noted that people facing food insecurity are more reliant on ultra-processed foods, and therefore more likely to demonstrate food addiction.
But they believe that viewing some foods as “addictive” could lead to new approaches in the realms of clinical care and public policy.
The team said policies implemented in Chile and Mexico – taxes, labeling, and marketing – are associated with decreases in calorie intake and buying of foods high in sugar, saturated fat, and salt.
And here in the UK a salt-reduction program has seen a fall in deaths from stroke and coronary artery disease.
“Given how prevalent these foods are — they make up 58 percent of calories consumed in the United States — there is so much we don’t know,” said Dr. DiFeliceantonio.
The researchers called for more study into such areas as: how complex features of ultra-processed foods combine to increase their addictive potential as well as better defining which foods can be considered addictive.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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