The New York Times’ health blog today proposes a question that Center for Science in the Public Interest president Michael Jacobson, America’s top food cop, recently called “blockbuster”: Is food just another drug? Are we hopelessly hooked on hot dogs?
The Times author seems to think so. After all, Kelly Brownell says, “Nobody abuses corn as far as I know, but when you process it […] what happens?” Brownell, far from a neutral source, is the godfather of the “Twinkie tax” and has spent decades trying to convince Americans to give up their food freedom, with minimal success. (It’s much easier to convince a handpicked board of busybody bureaucrats than the electorate.) So what better way to break through the real issue of personal responsibility than to preposterously claim we’re all just junkies?
Brownell and other activists hope that creating a so-called “food addiction” will lead to either trial lawyer paydays or alcohol-like regulations. (We haven’t heard proposals for a “Cheeseburger Control Store” yet, but we have heard calls for laws mandating, “We I.D.: No Sodas under 18.”) Scarily, bureaucrats are already starting to entertain the cookies-are-crack theory: Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called obesity “an addiction like smoking” earlier this year.
As we have noted repeatedly, food-equals-smokes comparisons are absurd. To state only the most obvious problem with the comparison, everybody needs to eat to live and nobody needs to smoke to survive.
Additionally, the “food addiction” hypothesis isn’t scientifically strong. The argument boils down to this: food causes brains in a brain scanner to light up, and people want more. In other words, people enjoy the taste of food, something known since before recorded history. But people don’t get the shakes from passing up popcorn. That and other holes led Cambridge University researchers to advise, “Criteria for substance dependence translate poorly to food-related behaviors.”
A psychiatrist warned in USA Today, “The word ‘addiction’ is perilously close to losing any meaning.” That was in 2003. Today, with everything from the internet, to video games, to pizza billed as the next heroin, we think her warning is needed more than ever.