Monday, September 12, 2011

Dangers of Fast Food Part 2: Addiction

It's 11:30PM and you can't sleep. You also have this strong urge for a hamburger. Luckily the fast food restaurant you frequent is still open, so you hop into your car and drive 3 miles to satisfy your craving. If this seems at all familiar to you, you may have developed one of the dangers of fast food: addiction.

Junk food binges or sugar cravings, terms that are thrown around nonchalantly, actually may underline a physiological condition that is just starting to be recognized by researchers and nutritionists alike. It has been discovered that overeating high-calorie, high-fat foods found in fast food restaurants carry the risk of overstimulating our brains pleasure pathways, making it less and less responsive. This has been shown to lead to the development of compulsive overeating habits.

The term addiction is tossed around because these fatty foods effect the brain in much the same way as drugs such as heroin or cocaine. In the brain, dopamine, an opiate-like ("feel good") neurotransmitter, is released as a response to pleasurable stimuli such as food, sex, or drugs. In the case of cocaine, the D2 receptor which normally receives dopamine is blocked by the drug. This over floods the brain and overstimulates its receptors, eventually leading to a physical change in which the way the brain reacts to the drug. In animal studies, fast foods caused the animals to completely lose control over their eating behavior, a hallmark of addiction.

This addictive state didn't just suddenly happen, but came about because of several possible factors. One of these factors is the increase of portion size from half a decade ago. When McDonalds first started in 1955, its only hamburger weighed 1.6 ounces; now the largest hamburger is 8 ounces. When a 44-ounce drink costs only ten cents more than a 32-ounce drink, which option do you think most people will prefer? More often than not, bargain trumps your actual thirst level. This may make sense from an economic standpoint, but that's where the danger lies.

Since most of us are exposed to fast food at such a young age it's understandable how we may be addicted, even if we don't consciously realize it. I remember wanting to go to McDonalds as a child just for the toy that came with the happy meal. Statistics from the Journal of American Medical Association found that Americans consume about 10 percent more calories than they did in the 1970s. This is about 200 extra calories per day! A survey of 1,244 adults showed that one in four Americans wouldn't give up meat for a week even if they were paid a thousand dollars to do so. Definitely sounds like an addiction.

If you haven't already done so, please check out my other article on the danger of fast foods. Also stay on the lookout for part 3. Thanks!

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