A story on the widely trafficked news aggregator The Drudge Report earlier today caught our eye: “Quitting junk food may cause withdrawal symptoms.” But behind the breathless headlines of junk-food junkies getting DTs from dropping chocolate cookies, we find another new rat study.
While animal research has value in identifying potential items of interest, it cannot serve as a perfect analog to human experience. Looking deeper into the study, we find that the rats that exhibited alleged withdrawal symptoms were fed a diet that provided 58 percent of calories from fat. However, according to Centers for Disease Control figures, the average American gets about one-third of calories from fat. And unlike other rat studies that fed “cafeteria diets” of actual human food, these rats were fed special chow that was extremely high in hydrogenated coconut oil.
But even without the non-representative nature of the experimental diets, there are other problems with expanding results from rats to people. A Time magazine writer looked at a previous “food addiction” rat study and noted that “rats were not only isolated from other rats, but were also given no toys or exercise wheels.” The writer compared the methodology with putting prisoners in solitary confinement and finding they chose interesting foods over bread-and-water rations.
Ultimately, the goal of “food addiction” arguments is to eliminate personal responsibility and enable government micromanaging of our diets. And this theory is looking rather weak: A recent evaluation of the medical literature by Cambridge University scientists found “no convincing evidence for a human withdrawal syndrome for foods.” Ultimately, individuals control their own forks and drinking glasses. No rat study can change that fact.