Junk Food Addiction: What Kids Say

Rodent King
Well, this is news that many people don’t want to hear, but, like it or not, we do need to pay attention to scientists like Paul Kenny and Paul Johnson. Victoria Stern has recently reported on fruit flies, personality problems, nanoparticles, and bacterial fingerprinting. In summing up the work of Kenny and Johnson, and their studies with rats, she says,

Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida have shown for the first time that compulsive overeating triggers the same changes in behavior and brain function as a drug addiction.

These workers in a field called molecular therapeutics have learned from their rats that, once addicted to junk food, the animals will continue to go for the empty calories even when the price is getting their feet zapped with electrical shocks. That is some powerful craving.

The source of this craving is probably dopamine receptors in the brain, which as they are overstimulated by pleasurable experiences, appear to become less active, such that less dopamine is taken up and larger dopamine levels result, causing cravings and driving the individual to eat pleasurably. When the pleasure centers are continually bombarded to the point where they stop working efficiently, the individual eats more and more compulsively, trying to regain the charge that used to come from eating less. This team even bred some rats with fewer dopamine receptors, who quickly became junk-food junkies. This points to the possibility that some people, just through the bad luck of being born with fewer receptors, arrive in the world with built-in addictive tendencies.

One thing that is very clear is that junk food can be just as habit-forming as hard drugs, for the same reasons centered in brain chemistry. Paul Kenny speaks of “addiction pathways” and holds forth hope that eventually science will be able to manipulate these hidden pathways and remove the susceptibility to addiction.

In Overweight: What Kids Say, Dr. Pretlow reports on what he has learned from 10 years of listening to the ordeals and triumphs of thousands of children and teens. In Chapter 15, he lays out a number of steps, based on what successful kids have posted, that can be followed by those who are serious about getting positive results. One characteristic of a successful weight-loser is that the person admits he or she is in the grip of substance dependence, exactly like a heroin addict. Whether the abused substance is cocaine or flavored grease, hooked is hooked. Facing that head-on is a major step toward freedom.

And although many kids are courageous enough to admit this, it isn’t something that parents necessarily want to know. Many parents are, in fact, in denial worse than their kids. Here is what Dr. Pretlow says about that:

Why is it important to recognize that obese kids overeat because of an apparent addiction to the pleasure of foods? Because education on healthy choices is not enough to break such an addiction. These kids need major intervention and support to break their dependence.

At this moment in time, as the nation focuses its attention on the childhood obesity epidemic more intensely than at any point in recent history, it’s very important to realize the distinction here. We could be on the verge of pouring an enormous amount of resources into counterproductive programs. The government seems poised to spend a whole lot of money educating kids on healthy choices. The response from those same kids indicates clearly that they do not need more information about the virtues of Romaine lettuce and the evils of potato chips. As we know, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Can’t stop devouring junk food?,” Washington Examiner, 04/29/10
Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,” Amazon.com
Image by azrainman, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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