Warning: junk food can be addictive


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29-03-2010 08:15 AM


ABC Canberra 666

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ABC Canberra 666


29-03-2010 08:15 AM



29-03-2010 08:50 AM

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2010-03-29 08:15:07

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Warning: junk food can be addictive -

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Warning: junk food can be addictive

Simon Santow reported this story on Monday, March 29, 2010 08:12:00

TONY EASTLEY: For years, obese people have been urged to eat less or to take more exercise, or to
do both. Now scientists in the US are suggesting that some people might also need to be treated in
the same way a drug addict or a smoker is treated for an addiction.

A new study published this morning in Nature Neuroscience has found that junk food can be

Simon Santow reports.

SIMON SANTOW: Smokers can struggle to kick the cigarette habit. Binge drinkers too. So what about
the almost seven million Australian adults now classified as overweight or obese, could at least
some be addicted to eating junk food?

PAUL KENNY: This food isn't innocuous. Everyone knows that it tastes good and it's probably bad for
you, but our study says if you overeat this, you may develop a habit toward the food and if you
keep on eating it, the habit can become really compulsive and it will be very hard to stop eating
that type of food.

SIMON SANTOW: Neurobiologist Paul Kenny from the Scripps Research Institute in Florida tested his
theory with rats in the lab. And he found some disturbing similarities with what can happen when
drug addiction sets in.

PAUL KENNY: Because the drugs over-stimulate reward pathways and as a result the reward pathways
become hypo-functional, they just don't work as well. And because of that we think that may drive
further and further drug use.

The second hallmark of excessive drug use is the fact that your behaviour directed towards them can
become very compulsive and inflexible. In other words, it almost becomes beyond your control.

SIMON SANTOW: What implications do you see for humans?

PAUL KENNY: Well almost paradigm-shifting because in large respect this study supports what people
have intuitively known for a long time but really there wasn't data to support it. And that is that
food can have - I don't like the nebulous "addiction" word but it can have addiction-like
properties in that your behaviour directed toward this junk food can become compulsive.

SIMON SANTOW: Paul Kenny says the challenge in modern society is to try and remove temptation when
it can be found almost everywhere.

Australian obesity expert Professor Boyd Swinburn from Deakin University agrees. He says in the
past 30 years, across the globe, there's been a revolution in the food environment.

BOYD SWINBURN: Change in the products which have become much more processed and manufactured and
therefore energy-dense and they have also worked out what things to add to it like sugar, salt and
fat and a whole bunch of other chemicals to make it tasty.

The price has also come down in relative terms over these decades. And of course the promotion and
the marketing of food have changed to become much more sophisticated that it was 30 years ago.

TONY EASTLEY: Professor Boyd Swinburn from Deakin University ending Simon Santow's report.