This week, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) hosted an open conference exploring the evidence—or lack thereof—supporting anti-pleasure activists’ risible food “addiction” theory. The program—aptly titled “Food Addiction – Believe it or Not?”—suggested that smart consumers should do the latter: The idea of food addiction, presenters argued, is ludicrous.
Professor Julian Mercer, head of obesity and metabolic health at the University of Aberdeen, explained that there isn’t sufficient evidence that everyday foods or ingredients are addictive.
This lack of supporting data hasn’t stopped self-anointed Food Police from peddling a food addiction narrative as a way to explain the obesity epidemic. But Mercer discredits this claim, too: “For most individuals with a weight problem, weight gain occurs rather slowly over periods of years or decades, and it is almost certainly completely inappropriate to suggest that food addiction or eating addiction has any role to play.”
In dismantling the theory’s credibility, Mercer emphasizes the frequency with which “addiction” rhetoric is used to justify hyperbolic—and completely ridiculous—comparisons, like those peddled by Mark “Hooked on Meat” Bittman and “snake oil salesman” Joseph Mercola, who has likened sugar to cocaine (yes, seriously).
Speaking to these hyped-up (and dumbed-down) associations, Mercer argued that “headlines saying cookies were as addictive as crack cocaine or fast food was as addictive as heroin were exasperating and misleading,” according to the Irish Times. “Scientists must work harder to get sensible messages out there.”
We’d be happy to help. For more than a decade, we’ve been reporting on the silliness of food addiction, and the ways in which this line of thinking counterproductively removes personal responsibility from discussions about nutritional health. At the end of the day, it’s all about balancing calories “in” and calories “out,” and we’re glad groups like the FSIA are joining the effort to promote common-sense solutions.