“Burgers on the Brain.” That’s the cover of a recent issue of New Scientist. “Fast food ‘as addictive as heroin'” blared one BBC headline. Some research claims that the human brain reacts to sugar and fat in a manner similar to illegal drugs. Rats fed a high-sugar diet demonstrate withdrawal symptoms. “We might even discover that it’s possible to become addicted to the all-American meal of burgers and fries,” says fast-food lawsuit king John Banzhaf. Billions of dollars of commerce could hinge on this debate. Is fast food addictive?
In Tuesday’s USA Today, one practicing psychiatrist decidedly sunk Banzhaf’s battleship: “In my drug-treatment clinic, I see a daily parade of battered men and women who have lost their families, jobs and homes. Many are infected with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. There is no comparison between these casualties of addiction and kids who eat too much.”
“The word ‘addiction’ is perilously close to losing any meaning,” the op-ed continued. “If lawyers can turn fast food into an addiction and pin liability on restaurants, it won’t be long before adulterers sue Sports Illustrated, claiming its swimsuit issue led them astray.”
You know the fast-food-is-addictive argument is weak when even die-hard fast food critic Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest questions it. “I think the burden is on advocates of the addiction argument to provide evidence of addiction,” he told New Scientist. Of course, sometimes Jacobson hedges in the thick of debate. On CNN he argued: “The question is whether that’s responsible, or whether you’re hooking kids on junk food…”
That’s music to Banzhaf’s ears. His USA Today quote reads like an ambulance-chaser’s dream: “With growing evidence that fatty foods can have addiction-like effects, this will be a new, untested weapon in obesity suits.”