If you’re old enough to remember 1969, then you are old enough to remember this bold addition to the packages containing cigarettes that year: “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health.” It was supposed to alarm consumers enough to quit smoking, but it was reinforced even more with the 1984 rule that let potential consumers know more specifically what kinds of terminal illnesses smoking was known to cause. By the way, nicotine is addictive.
What would your take be if you were to see this on your next frozen dinner or cereal box or other processed food product: “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That This Processed Food Product Is Addictive.” The Surgeon General may or may not point to the poor nutritional value of many of these food products, but addictive?
Well, that’s precisely what a number of recent clinical studies have shown. Clinical investigators in both Southport, UK, and the University of Michigan here in the states have demonstrated that highly processed foods and fat have the unique ability to rapidly metabolize leading to an addictive outcome in line with nicotine-based products. While the diet does not inexorably lead to bad outcomes, the addictive potential means that they become the slippery slope toward either obesity or diabetes or both.
The rest of the story, the doctors note, are in step with addictive behavior:
- Poor control of intake among those who are addicted;
- Major cravings among those who are addicted;
- Continued use despite bad health outcomes;
- And all the other hallmarks of addiction.
When you consider what finally led to all the boxed warnings on tobacco products, you will see the parallels. Tobacco products, researchers found,
- Were triggers to not just continued, but compulsive, use;
- Were able to create cravings that were psychological; and
- Were repetitive behaviors that encouraged more and more.
Remember also that cigarettes used to be in the checkout lanes of grocery stores like…well, like the candies and other snacks that include highly processed carbohydrates. While there is no labeling of such commodities yet, that time will come. Don’t wait for the label to give a mindful consideration to the foods you label as your favorites when they may actually be your addictions.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.