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by intern Christine Binder

A recent study in Nature Neuroscience found that rats allowed to binge on high-fat, high-calorie foods – junk food bought at the grocery store – not only became obese, but also became compulsive eaters. The neuroscientists found that changes in the brains of the obese rats are similar to those found in people with a physical addiction to drugs.

This comes as no surprise if you have read David Kessler’s book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, which states that overeating comes not from character flaws, but from biological conditioning. Eating foods high in fat, sugar, or salt reinforces the desire to eat those foods again. The more people eat them, the less rewarding they taste, which drives them to compensate by compulsively eating even more. The food and restaurant industries know this. Tons of research and development goes into designing foods that are literally irresistible, or as the industry calls them, “cravable.”

Kessler’s book has influenced Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, which aims to eradicate childhood obesity within a generation. Here is an excerpt from The First Lady’s speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association earlier this month:

“Humans…are hard-wired to crave sugary, fatty, salty foods. And it is temping to take advantage of that – to create products that are sweeter, richer, and saltier than ever before.

This can be particularly dangerous when it comes to our kids…the more of these products they have in their diets, the more accustomed they become to those tastes, and then the more deeply embedded these foods become in their eating habits.”