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Global obesity epidemic linked to addiction to unhealthy food

25 May, 2013

ISLAMABAD: Research shows that high-fructose corn syrup can cause behavioural reactions in rats similar to those produced by drugs of abuse such as cocaine.

These results, presented by addiction expert Francesco Leri, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Applied Cognitive Science at the University of Guelph, suggest food addiction could explain, at least partly, the current global obesity epidemic.

The " Food Addiction" hypothesis suggests one could be addicted to food just as one is addicted to drugs of abuse.

To test this hypothesis, Dr. Leri studied the response of rats to foods containing unnaturally high concentrations of sugar, fats and taste enhancers, such as high-fructose corn syrup and foods like oreo cookies.

Increased availability of such highly-palatable foods could partly explain the high incidence of obesity around the world, but simple availability does not explain why some people are obese and others are not, given the same amount of available food.

Dr. Leri and others, suggest one important factor could be individual differences in vulnerability to addiction.

Surveys of consumption of cocaine show that though many individuals try these drugs, only a small percentage of them become addicted.

Dr. Leri wanted to know if the same could be true of "addictive foods".

"We have evidence in laboratory animals of a shared vulnerability to develop preferences for sweet foods and for cocaine" Leri said.

Dr. Leri investigated the behavioural, chemical and neurobiological changes induced by consumption of " addictive foods" in the bodies and brains of rats.

Dr. Leri`s findings could lead to novel pharmacological interventions for obese individuals that could help them selectively reduce intake of unhealthy foods.

This knowledge could also help increase the public`s understanding of the effects of unhealthy food choices.


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