Activists are getting a bunch of publicity for their latest cause from Connecticut College, where undergraduates have discovered that mice prefer cookies to rice cakes. This shouldn’t shock anyone, but the students have sent the media running off crowing that the study proves that the Oreos are “addictive.”
So how did the hyperbolic pronouncement of one study participant that “foods may present even more of a danger” than heroin come to be? According to a Daily Mail summary of the methodology, rats were offered a maze leading to Oreo cookies or bland rice cakes. Predictably, rats chose the cookies (wouldn’t you?). Nothing surprising there, but activists and the researchers preposterously claimed (to a scientifically illiterate media) that this “proved” the cookies were crack.
The study, riddled as it is with basic logic flaws (Phase 1: Rats like cookies. Phase 2: ? Phase 3: Food Addiction!), has yet to be peer-reviewed or subjected to scientific scrutiny. Sadly, university press offices have a track record of blowing pro-activist food studies completely out of proportion. That Connecticut College’s has done it again (and that tabloid pop-media outlets have run with it) shouldn’t be surprising.
What also shouldn’t be surprising is that these claims are completely non-credible. VICE magazine’s Motherboard interviewed the director of the University of Texas’s Addiction Science Research and Education Center, and he had harsh words for the “Oreos are crack, swearsies” reporting. He said:
I think that a study like this can be devastating with respect to public understanding of what addiction is and what it’s not […] First of all, there’s no science behind food being addicting in spite of what general public feels. Reporters often publish this sensationalism trying to get people to think you can be addicted to lingerie, to food, to a cell phone, to the tanning booth.
Ouch. But behind the burn lies truth: While researchers and reporters can spin mice preferring Oreos to rice cakes into “proof” that Oreos are cocaine-like addictive substances, it doesn’t make the claim true. Researchers from Cambridge University who have investigated supposed “food addictions” have noted that “criteria for substance dependence translate poorly to food-related behaviors.” It’s a poor model and a poor analogy that serves only to empower anti-consumer choice policies. It should be rejected.