We often think of smoking and drinking when it comes to addiction—but there’s another compulsion affecting as many as 14 percent of adults and even 12 percent of kids: food addiction.
Indulgent dishes enticing us with fat and sugar can feel impossible to avoid, especially during the festive season. Experts confirm it’s more than a feeling: Half a century of food trends has created an environment where much of the food consumed by adults in the world's larger economies such as the U.S. is ultra-processed—often optimised to hit the body’s fat and sugar sensors to release dopamine.
These processed food products capitalise on our biology to keep us reaching for more. “We don't realise that these are really killing people on par with what we're seeing with things like alcohol and tobacco, leading to preventable deaths,” says Ashley Gearhardt, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a member of a research team that assessed the latest figures for the prevalence of food addiction in March 2022.
Experts are rewriting what we know about food addiction and asking new questions about what we can do to curb it—and save lives.