Filed Under: Big Fat Lies Food Police

A Magic Bullet Called “Addiction”

With new studies purporting to equate ice cream and heroin, we can’t help but recall one psychiatrist’s warning that “the word ‘addiction’ is perilously close to losing any meaning.” A Daily Mail article spells out the latest claims:

Food addiction could be responsible for the rising number of people suffering from obesity and eating disorders, scientists believe. 

They say as many as one in 200 people could be suffering from the condition and are investigating the possibility that in many cases over-eating is caused by behavioural addiction.

Let’s put aside the science for a moment and take that statistic at face value: one of 200 doesn’t equal an obesity epidemic. That’s only 0.5 percent, so this would seem to rule out food “addiction” as a main culprit of weight gain.

That’s bad news for folks like “Twinkie tax” creator Kelly Brownell, who tells us that food is addictive, like cocaine (though he concedes that “Sugar doesn’t have as strong of an effect on the brain” as drugs or alcohol). The food-equals-tobacco claim has also been a popular topic this year, and New York Times food snob Mark Bittman can’t help but use the word “dopamine” to sound like he has a clue about what addiction really is. (“Addiction” is a more appropriate description for his relationship with hyperbole.)

We’re tired of hearing the multitude of ways to assign blame when the real cause of health problems comes down to the small choices that people make. Researchers at Cambridge University have told us that “The vast majority of overweight individuals have not shown a convincing behavioural or neurobiological profile that resembles addiction.” And even this most recent study tells us:

A small proportion of people with binge-eating disorders – maybe 0.5 per cent of the general population – fit most of the criteria for addiction, it is believed.

Classifying food as addictive is not the magic bullet to solving obesity. Especially since every human needs food to survive (are we “addicted” to oxygen?) Pursuing the addiction claim takes the responsibility out of the hands of the individuals who should be encouraged to make better choices.

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