The extraordinary science of addictive junk food


Here’s a great new article on how junk food is engineered to be addictive:

NYT: The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food

It’s perhaps nothing really new and the journalist is still stuck in old-fashioned failed ideas (sugar, salt and fat are equally bad). But the article gives great insights into the minds of the men running the junk food industry. Like this quote:

People could point to these things and say, ‘They’ve got too much sugar, they’ve got too much salt,’ ” Bible said. “Well, that’s what the consumer wants, and we’re not putting a gun to their head to eat it. That’s what they want. If we give them less, they’ll buy less, and the competitor will get our market. So you’re sort of trapped.”

You see the problem? Any junk food company trying to focus on healthy food (instead of focusing on making the junk food ever more addictive) risks being quickly eliminated. Any executive trying to do what’s right (and make less money) will likely be fired.

So what happens if the industry is left unregulated? It turns into a rapid evolution towards ever more addictive and ever less healthy junk food. It’s what’s been happening for a long time.

Here’s how a former Coca Cola executive was secretly thinking about expanding his market and making more money:

Dunn said. “How many drinkers do I have? And how many drinks do they drink? If you lost one of those heavy users, if somebody just decided to stop drinking Coke, how many drinkers would you have to get, at low velocity, to make up for that heavy user? The answer is a lot. It’s more efficient to get my existing users to drink more.”

I imagine that’s not too different from how any drug dealer thinks.


  1. robert
    Nobody prevents these drug dealers from exploring new fields of business, releasing new products that might compensate for losses in their traditional line of products. I don't get it why there isn't already a heavy tax on all these sugar-waters. They don't have any nutritional benefit whatsoever, make you fat, rot your teeth and drain your money. What's even worse, they're freely available to children and marketing targets strongly towards them.
  2. Michelle
    Thank goodness my family and I are off all of the processed rubbish the food industury call food.

    I have to reason with my child nearly everyday to keep him from eating junk. I hope that one day he will see that it's not me that's the bad guy, it's the food industury.

    Thanks for this Andreas; great reading.

  3. Ann
    Yes, but the answer is not to regulate the industry when government does everything it can to exacerbate the problem. The grain industry has the government firmly in its pocket and if you read Dr. Davis's book "Wheat Belly" you know that the addictive nature of grains puts us in crave-mode for sugar as well. Then, of course, there are the corn subsidies that make life easy for those who sweeten all that evil junk food with HCFS. And these are the people you want to regulate it? They've already proved they don't belong in the nutrition business.
    There also is a move afoot in the halls of the very bureaucracy that would do the regulating, to treat all supplements as meds ala FDA regs. I read a forum post the other day where a man in Germany was wondering where and how he was gong to get a supplement that was suggested as a way to address some pain he was having. Do we want that here?

    No! The answer is not regulation, as the ones who do the regulating are listening to faulty science. You know we are looking at the certainty of a fat tax in the near future. Sure, everyone knows sugar is bad but that should just mean it's up to us to regulate ourselves and our children. That's how America is supposed to work.

  4. "So what happens if the industry is left unregulated?"

    Ann's got it just right. People eat this stuff because it's in agreement with the governments' recommendations, in many cases. And industry rapidly re-formulates foods to stay in line with the governments regulations. (See the rapid rise of whole-grain snacks.)

    The real problem is that the dietary advice the government gives induces people to eat these snacks. I really don't think that if the government had been telling that this stuff was worse than cigarettes that people would be feeding it to their kids.

    If you're trying to eat grains and polyunsaturated fats, junk food is the way to go...

    And the notion that the food industry is unregulated is just fanciful. In the US attempts to use fresh strawberries in ice cream are rapidly squashed by the regulators, for instance. Only cooked, frozen, processed strawberries are allowed, no doubt with added sugar.

  5. robert
    Hmmm. Maybe it would suffice to stop subsidizing grains of all kind. But we probably won't see that as well in my lifetime. I can already hear the grain-farmers and their lobbyists screaming at the top of their lungs. Although I'm not a fan of Agri-subsidies, I'd rather have them for real foods (mostly veggies) than for grains. I can buy 1kg of muesli for about 1.30€, that's 4000 kcal of bowel busting grains. For 1kg of bell peppers I have to pay about 3.50€, about 350kcal. Bell peppers are about 30x more expensive per k-calorie! And I doubt that it is 30x more laborious to grow them. You don't need any harvesters, no ploughs either. The whole food business is seriously out of balance. And I haven't even touched the mess with GMO grains / seeds / pesticides / food patents / food speculation yet.
  6. "So what happens if the industry is left unregulated?"

    We retain a small amount of vital freedom, that's what happens. While your knowledge of nutrition and diet are world-class, your political views suck.

    When a nation protects it's people from their folly, it becomes a nation of fools very quickly.

    Also, government is quite capable of taking a bad situation, and making it much worse. Government bureaucrats know less than nothing about nutrition, and need to stay completely away from the subject. A large part of the dietary mess in this country (US) is directly traceable to government meddling. More government meddling is GUARANTEED to make the problem worse.

  7. Kevin
    Old school yes or may-be. But Moss actually states the interview that fat alone has no (addictive) stimulus to brain. It's used to make it more palatable.
    (My thoughts) In combination with starch & sugars which have a "opiate like" stimulus to the brain and therefor more than needed caloric fat intake. Sugar drives insulin and thus fat storage I understand the concern. Note: Stick to LCHF and you eliminate the food carvings and no fat storage.
  8. Only government intervention will put a stop to the shady practices of prepared food manufacturers. They are no more or less like the tobacco industry who knowingly addicted millions of people to their dangerous cigarettes.

    A quasi-nihilist acquaintance said that we should look to the upside, that all these bad practices--smoking, eating junk--will at least cut down the population to a manageable size. He missed the point that the costs we all have to bear, as well as needless suffering for millions, makes this a very stupid idea.

  9. @Nan "Only government intervention will put a stop to the shady practices of prepared food manufacturers."

    That might be nice, except for two things: 1) It won't happen, because the nature of power concentration in government has already led to the prepared food manufactures co-opting the process, and 2) government consist of bureaucrats who know less than nothing about diet, and will do exactly the wrong thing, guaranteed.

    Besides which, government is NOT the only thing that will stop this. I quit eating crap over a decade ago -- and since then, the government has completely failed in their efforts to force me to eat (or drink) crap.

    I consider freedom to be more important.

  10. Kem
    As a business owner... Junk food and beverages are products! And, like all products in a free market, if a product is NOT purchased, it is not profitable. Products that are not profitable are dropped from that company's product line. It is the "consumer" that makes the choice to purchase that product! If you are a parent, it is your responsibility to guide your child in making healthy choices in his or her young life. Just because a product exists in the market place does compel you to purchase that product.

    You choose to make that choice!

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