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Research on Junk Foods and Addiction Could Lead to Tobacco-Type Litigation, Yale Prof Says

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Processed foods that contain high sugar and fat and little in the way of nutrients could be changing the brain in a way that resembles addiction, some researchers believe.

The findings are leading Yale psychology and public health professor Kelly Brownell to suggest food companies could face lawsuits similar to those against the tobacco industry, Bloomberg News reports. “This could change the legal landscape,” Brownell tells the publication. “People knew for a long time cigarettes were killing people, but it was only later they learned about nicotine and the intentional manipulation of it.”

The article cites these experiments and findings:

• Overweight women were given MRI scans as they sipped a milkshake, and then given the same test six months later. Those who had gained weight showed reduced activity in the area of the brain that registers reward. Some researchers believe the findings support the theory that eating junk foods desensitizes the brain’s reward centers, causing people to eat more to register the same amount of pleasure.

• Rats given daily sugar water drank increasingly large amounts and ate less of their usual diet. When the animals were given a drug to block the effects of the sugar, they showed withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, shakes and tremors.

• Rats given one-hour daily access to fatty and sugary foods such as bacon, cheesecake and pound cake started binge eating, even when more nutritious food was available throughout the day.

Food company experts say there is still no proof of addiction, and companies are now offering healthier snacks. Bloomberg quotes Richard Adamson, a pharmacologist and consultant for the American Beverage Association. “I have never heard of anyone robbing a bank to get money to buy a candy bar or ice cream or pop,” he says.

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