One Food Addiction Factor, Continued Yet Again

That one factor is the industry’s way of purposefully engineering food to be addictive, or “addictive.” Quotation marks are appropriate, but it is also okay not to use them. Experts are still trying to figure it out, because the subject of this series of posts is: how to even know what people are talking about when using those words.

Is food addictive in the same sense as heroin and cocaine? Or in some other way? Or in more than one way? And if so, what are the government, the medical establishment, the businesses, and the people supposed to do about it?

Picking up from last time

These particular miscreants, the captains of Big Food — as described by Michael Moss in an impressive 2013 article — have dirt on their hands either way. If pathological overeating is a substance addiction, they manufacture the substance, and even tinker with it to make it more addictive. If pathological overeating is a behavioral addiction, they spend unimaginable fortunes to convince people to behave in a specific way, i.e., buy the stuff.

So it is pretty important to wonder if the industry really does addict people on purpose, because that is a gangster move, with the word not being meant in any hip, positive sense. Does a cartel knowingly lure millions of people to a life of obesity, sub-optimal health, and yes, maybe even addiction? Because if so, shouldn’t we be aware of the extent of the wrongness, and maybe think about what could be done to change the prognosis?


In “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” Moss conveyed the attitude shared by most executives, which we will paraphrase here: The consumer is king, it’s our job to sell them what they want. When they walk out of the store with a bag of chips, it’s not as if we held a gun to their head. A corporation has a responsibility to its shareholders. Commerce is a tough game, and sometimes parties have to compromise to get along. One company officer gave the reporter this pragmatic quotation: “And I do believe it’s easy to rationalize anything.”

Ramping up the uses of psychology

A corollary of the “consumer is king” rule is that kids are consumers, so their roles, as princes and princesses, must be brought to the fore, strengthened, and utilized. Moss recounts the legendary saga of how, back in 1999, the promoters of one product found the key by offering plenty of choices. Moss wrote,

In what would prove to be their greatest achievement of all, the Lunchables team would delve into adolescent psychology to discover that it wasn’t the food in the trays that excited the kids; it was the feeling of power it brought to their lives. As Bob Eckert, then the C.E.O. of Kraft, put it: “Lunchables aren’t about lunch. It’s about kids being able to put together what they want to eat, anytime, anywhere.”

And for the younger crowd, there was a customized strategy:

Saturday-morning cartoons started carrying an ad that offered a different message: “All day, you gotta do what they say,” the ads said. “But lunchtime is all yours.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food,”, 02/20/13
Image by Donnie Ray Jones/CC BY 2.0

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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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