Global Obesity Epidemic Due To Love Affair With Junk Food

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online
The world is apparently filled with “junk food junkies.” Those are the findings of new research presented today that suggests high-fructose corn syrup could cause behavioral reactions in rats. These reactions are reportedly similar to those produced by drugs of abuse such as cocaine, and could help explain, at least partly, the current global obesity epidemic.
The results were presented at the 2013 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting by addiction expert Francesco Leri, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Applied Cognitive Science at the University of Guelph.
Leri´s “Food Addiction” hypothesis suggests that individuals could be addicted to food just as one is addicted to drugs. He tested his hypothesis by studying the response of rats to foods that contained unnaturally high concentrations of sugar, fats and taste enhancers, including high-fructose corn syrup.
“We have evidence in laboratory animals of a shared vulnerability to develop preferences for sweet foods and for cocaine,” Dr. Leri said in a statement.
He suggests that the increased availability of highly-palatable foods could explain the high incidence of obesity around the world. Yet he noted that simple availability does not explain why some individuals are obese while others are not when given the same amount of food.
Instead Leri has suggested that one important factor could be individual differences in a vulnerability to addiction. The study noted that consumption of cocaine suggests that while many individuals may try these narcotics only a small percentage actually become addicted.
Leri´s research looked at the behavioral, chemical and neurobiological changes induced by consumption of “addictive foods” in the bodies and brains of rats.
“We are not rats, but our children do not think too much about the impact of sweets on their brain and behavior,” Leri added. “There is now convincing neurobiological and behavioral evidence indicating that addiction to food is possible. Our primary objective is to discover biological predictors of vulnerability to develop excessive consumption of high fructose corn syrup.”
Leri´s research study could lead to pharmacological interventions, which could be used by obese individuals to aid them in selectively reducing the intake of unhealthy foods. Moreover this knowledge could help increase the general understanding of the effects of unhealthy food choices.
One suggestion is that an effective strategy to combat obesity could be to educate people about the causes and consequences of their food intake choices.
Obesity poses several major health risks including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and stroke and certain forms of cancer are all more prevalent in obese individuals.
A previous study by the University of South California (USC) and the University of Oxford revealed that countries that included high-fructose corn syrup in their food had a 20 percent higher prevalence of diabetes as compared to those that didn´t include the sweetener.
Another study from Yale University School of Medicine, which was published in JAMA earlier this year, also examined possible factors regarding the association between fructose consumption and weight gain.
As of 2008, more than 1.4 billion people were classified as overweight, and of those 500 million were considered obese, whilst the worldwide incidence of obesity has more than doubled since 1980. The World Health Organization (WHO) now uses the term “globesity” to qualify this epidemic, which is present in all parts of the globe, and not only in industrialized societies.

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