LABELLING ultra-processed foods as addictive could help people lose weight, a study suggests.
Highlighting that snacks like chocolate bars “have the properties of addictive substances” could help improve public health, scientists said.
Around one in seven adults and 12 per cent of children are hooked on ultra-processed foods around the world, US, Brazilian and Spanish researchers found.
The foods affect the brain differently to whole foods like fruit or fish because they contain both carbohydrates and fats, their analysis found.
Dr Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, said: “Most foods that we think of as natural provide energy in the form of carbohydrate or fat – but not both.
“Many ultra-processed foods have higher levels of both.
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“That combination has a different effect on the brain.”
Ultra-processed foods refer to any foods that have gone through the maximum level of processing and can’t be easily recreated in the kitchen.
These can include some ice creams, ham, sausages, crisps, mass-produced bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits and soft drinks.
Previous studies have linked UPFs to a range of health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
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The latest research, published in the British Medical Journal, looked at how addictive the foods are based on a review of 281 studies from 36 different countries.
They found some people’s behaviour around UPF could meet the criteria to be diagnosed with substance use disorder.
These included intense cravings, withdrawal symptoms and continued use despite everyday problems caused by obesity.
Using labels to tell customers about how unhealthy foods has been shown to be effective in Chile and Mexico, the team said
Professor Ashley Gearhardt, of the University of Michigan, said: “There is converging and consistent evidence for food addiction.
“By acknowledging that certain types of processed foods have the properties of addictive substances, we may be able to help improve global health.”
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