The Industry As an Agent of Addiction

As ill-behaved and ruthlessly acquisitive as corporations can be, it would still be wrong to blame them for things that are not their fault. There are ways of getting on the food addiction (FA) bandwagon that can lead to trouble. For instance, the public starts to demand better legal protection. But as H. Ziauddeen and P. C. Fletcher noted in “Is food addiction a valid and useful concept?,”

Enforcing the relevant legislation is not always straightforward with drugs that are clearly identified and is likely to be far more problematic with foods.

In other words, to try and police Big Food about this would open up a can of worms or a hornet’s nest or some undesirable result; because there is too much room for legal charges to be challenged; because there are too many unanswered questions about whether FA is even “a thing.”

This is an example, drawn from the pages of Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, of the misunderstandings that need to be straightened out before blame can be apportioned:

We perceive the necessity, and at the same time the difficulty, to clearly separate known causes of overeating, which without knowledge of the underlying process (e.g. leptin deficiency, hypothalamic tumor) could be labeled as an addictive behavior.

No sooner is one question answered, than another one pops up. This is one reason why it is so important to figure out the whole food addiction puzzle. As in any meaningful debate, there are different points of view, and hopefully all parties realize that sometimes even the most reasonable-looking course may turn out to be a false path. It hurts, but it happens.

The implications of all this are quite staggering, especially when extended into the FA realm. When everybody has limited amounts of time, money, patience, and other resources, why risk traveling at 80 MPH in the wrong direction?

The ever-popular list format

Every so often someone publishes a list with a provocative title like “10 Foods That Are More Addictive Or As Addictive As Drugs.” In one such roster, compiled by Oliver Taylor in 2018, soda, potato chips, and cookies were well represented. Rats prefer chocolate cookies filled with frosting to rice cakes, and that’s a fact. Wheat is on this list too, touted as “an addictive food that no one seems to notice.” (Years later, the harmfulness of wheat is still hotly debated.) Sugar, of course, coffee, ice cream, cheese — all the usual suspects.

People can get addicted to meat, apparently, because of a natural stimulant. Taylor says,

Hypoxanthine even has the same properties as caffeine. Older meat contains more hypoxanthine, which is why some people exhibit withdrawal symptoms and a serious craving for this type of food if they do not eat it for a while… Meat contains other addictive substances like guanylic and inosinic acids…

Stay tuned for more about the “substance addiction versus behavioral addiction” debate, and how it relates to childhood obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Is food addiction a valid and useful concept? — NCBI,”, January 2013
Source: “’Eating addiction’, rather than ‘food addiction’, better captures addictive-like eating behavior,”, November 2014
Source: “10 Foods That Are More Addictive Or As Addictive As Drugs,”, 08/26/18
Image by rebelxtned/CC BY-ND 2.0

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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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