Study examines Big Tobacco’s role in addictive foods

  • Tobacco companies bought into major food suppliers in the 1980s
  • They helped develop "hyperpalatable" foods
  • The combinations of salt, fat and carbs can hit the brain's reward center


(NewsNation) If you find yourself craving your favorite junk food or you can’t stop snacking, it may be by design.

A new study published in the journal Addiction found Big Tobacco bought into U.S. food companies in the 1980s and went on to develop so-called “hyperpalatable” foods. The potent combination of carbs, fat, sugar and sodium is specifically designed to hit the brain’s reward center, causing people to crave the food more often, said Tera Fazzino, one of the researchers behind the study.  

In other words, it sends the brain feel-good signals to go back for more.

“It can be difficult to stop eating, and it can be very easy to passively keep consuming them if you’re watching TV or something,” Fazzino said.

Two of the largest tobacco companies in the United States – R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris – bought heavily into the U.S. food supply, having touched at some point Kraft, Nabisco, Oscar Meyer and others, Fazzino said.

Consumers, however, may have some leverage, she said.

“Tobacco companies created addictive cigarettes and they ultimately incurred federal regulation as a result to protect consumer and public health,” Fazzino said. “I think that we can do the same thing with these foods and begin regulating in a way by asking companies to drop their nutrients to below the threshold of hyperpalatability.”


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