14% Of Adults Worldwide Are Addicted To Ultra-Processed Food, Researchers Say

Experts have stated that one in seven adults and one in eight children are impacted by addiction to ultra-processed foods (known as UPFs). The new research has led to individuals wanting certain products to be labeled as addictive. 

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According to new research published in the BMJ, Ultra-Processed Foods (UPFs), which are linked to poor health, an increased risk of cancer, weight gain and heart disease, are addictive and should be labeled as such. The ways in which some people consume these UPFs “meet the criteria for a diagnosis of substance use disorders.” 

According to reports from the Guardian, “Behaviors that could meet this criteria include: intense cravings, symptoms of withdrawal, less control over intake, and continued use despite such consequences as obesity, binge eating disorder, poorer physical and mental health, and lower quality of life,” they said.

The research published in the BMJ was based on data taken from 281 studies from 36 different countries. They found that “ultra-processed food addiction was estimated to occur in 14% of adults and 12% of children,”  the researchers wrote in the BMJ.

Ashley Gearhardt, the article’s corresponding author, stated that if these UPFs are categorized as “addictive” it could potentially help improve the health of individuals all over the world.

“There is converging and consistent support for the validity and clinical relevance of food addiction.” 

“By acknowledging that certain types of processed foods have the properties of addictive substances, we may be able to help improve global health,” Gearhardt stated. 

The authors also discussed that the categorization could create an opportunity for further research and analysis on UPFs. Most experts involved in the researched believe there is an urgent need to understand the potential impacts of UPFs on global health. 

“Given how prevalent these foods are – they make up 58% of calories consumed in the United States – there is so much we don’t know,” Co-author Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, stated

The researchers added: “Refined carbohydrates or fats evoke similar levels of extracellular dopamine in the brain striatum to those seen with addictive substances such as nicotine and alcohol.

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“Based on these behavioral and biological parallels, foods that deliver high levels of refined carbohydrates or added fats are a strong candidate for an addictive substance.”

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The authors added that the rate in which these foods provide our bodies with carbohydrates and fats could potentially add to their “addictive” nature. Additives to UPFs also contribute to their addictive quality, as they contribute an “improved mouth feel” to the foods which could “become powerful reinforcers of the effects of calories in the gut.”

The researchers also made it clear that further research needs to be done in order to make concrete conclusions over the addictive responses UPFs give consumers, however, it’s clear that the foods are “consumed in addictive patterns,” based on the data they did use. 

“Ultra-processed foods high in refined carbohydrates and added fats are highly rewarding, appealing, and consumed compulsively and may be addictive. Behaviors around ultra-processed food may meet the criteria for diagnosis of substance use disorder in some people,” they wrote

“Ultra-processed food addiction is estimated to occur in 14% of adults and 12% of children and is associated with bio-psychological mechanisms of addiction and clinically significant problems.

“Understanding of these foods as addictive could lead to novel approaches in the realm of social justice, clinical care, and policy approaches.”