Highly Processed Foods ‘as Addictive’ as Tobacco


LONDON — Highly processed foods meet the same criteria as tobacco for addiction, and labeling them as such might benefit public health, according to a new US study that proposes a set of criteria to assess the addictive potential of some foods.

The research suggests that healthcare professionals are taking steps towards framing food addiction as a clinical entity in its own right; it currently lacks validated treatment protocols and recognition as a clinical diagnosis.

Meanwhile, other data, reported by researchers last week at the Diabetes Professional Care (DPC) 2022 conference in London, UK, also add support to the clinical recognition of food addiction.

Clinical psychologist Jen Unwin, PhD, from Southport, UK, showed that a 3-month online program of low carbohydrate diet together with psychoeducational support significantly reduced food addiction symptoms among a varied group of individuals, not all of whom were overweight or had obesity.

Unwin said her new data represent the first widescale clinical audit of its kind, other than a prior report of three patients with food addiction who were successfully treated with a ketogenic diet. 

“Food addiction explains so much of what we see in clinical practice, where intelligent people understand what we tell them about the physiology associated with a low-carb diet, and they follow it for a while, but then they relapse,” said Unwin, explaining the difficulties faced by around 20% of her patients who are considered to have food addiction.

Meanwhile, the authors of the US study, led by Ashley N. Gearhardt, PhD, a psychologist from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, write that the ability of highly processed foods (HPFs) “to rapidly deliver high doses of refined carbohydrates and/or fat appear key to their addictive potential. Thus, we conclude that HPFs can be considered addictive substances based on scientifically established criteria.”

They assert that the contribution to preventable deaths by a diet dominated by highly processed foods is comparable to that of tobacco products, and as such, like Unwin, the authors…



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