Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Addicted To Junk.....Food

We all love some kind of junk food, and anybody who says that they don't is either in denial, or out right lying. I believe that everyone has at least one thing that they love that has absolutely no nutritional value. Some of us have several. But can junk food really be addictive?

While most consumers understand that consuming too much processed food is inherently unhealthy, what is less understood is how such foods are purposely engineered to be addictive.

A recent the New York Times article, adapted from the book, "Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us", goes into detail about how scientists and marketers in the employ of such food giants as Frito-Lay, Coke and Kraft have manipulated the American consumer into buying more and more processed food by adjusting both the recipes and the messaging around the foods found on the shelves.

Considering the increasing prevalence and cost of obesity-related illness in this country, revealing this manipulation of the food system and determining methods to combat the sway held by food companies should be a top priority.

There is absolute science behind food addiction. Food scientists search for what is called the "Bliss Point," that balance of ingredients, packaging, and experience that make certain products all but irresistible. By manipulating the ratio of salt, fat and sugar in a product, as well as fiddling with product presentation and "mouth feel," food scientists can fool the brain into wanting more even when a sufficient number of calories have been consumed. In other words scientists have found a way to effectively create a craving.

Cheetos is one of the best examples of marketing designed to hook the consumer. Food scientists have proclaimed Cheetos "one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure." One such scientist has noted that the most powerful addictive attribute of Cheetos is the fact that the snack melts away in the mouth. This melting fools the brain into thinking that no calories have been consumed.  

Other research has shown that the ingredients in junk food, especially vegetable-based oils, act on the brain in similar ways to marijuana, inducing hunger by causing the body to produce substances called endocannabinoids. Simply put, our bodies are biologically wired to seek out high fat, high salt, high sugar foods so-called hyper-palatable foods, and the corporations that feed us are profiting from those instincts, all the while putting our health at risk.

Corporations have a right to make a profit. What they do not have is the right to make a profit by manipulating the American public with products that increase our health risks. The revelation of the addictive nature of junk food is a necessary step in moving the country toward greater health and corporate responsibility.

Perhaps the most over looked form of junk is the junk that we feed our minds.

The average American watches more than four hours of television per day (five times the amount dedicated to socialization!). It makes sense that it would change us, the same as doing anything for four hours a day changes you. Yet, it's surprisingly hard to get people to accept this.

But the science is pretty much overwhelming. Enough television rewires your brain in a bunch of unexpected ways. For instance ...

Scientists tracked more than 1,000 29 month old babies and their television habits and the effects of excess TV were quite disturbing. Even after researchers accounted for all the other factors that would explain differences in behavior. The more television a child watched as a toddler, the more likely it was that he'd be over weight, bullied, bad at math, inactive and prone to misbehavior in the classroom.

Again, that's not a result of watching violent TV shows or anything else that would encourage them to do bad things. Not that a 3-year-old would be able to absorb those lessons anyway.

No, it's just the act of watching television, and again, it's not just that the type of parent who plants a kid in front of a TV all day. The results hold up even if you account for all other factors in the kids' upbringing.

France has even banned shows from having children younger than 3 as their target audience, because French adults are the only ones allowed to have their intelligences insulted.

Again, that's not a result of watching violent TV shows or anything else that would encourage them to do bad things. Not that a 3-year-old would be able to absorb those lessons anyway.

Too much TV has also been linked to violence. The average 18-year-old has seen 200,000 violent actions committed on television over the course of his life, including 40,000 murders.

The average violent action-to-death ratio, in a movie or television show is about five to one. We assume that many of those murders weren't particularly desensitizing and gruesome affairs, probably mostly involving a hero thoughtlessly mowing down an army of clumsy masked goons.

But regardless of the severity, the violence we view on television actually does have an influence on our behavior. A study that followed the viewing habits of 700 children over the course of 17 years found that (after ruling out factors like poverty and neglect) more hours of television translated to more violent acts. 

Scientists found that 22.5 percent of children who watched one to three hours of television per day committed aggressive actions such as threats, assaults, and fights in subsequent years. If the children watched more than four hours per day, the percentage rose to 28.8 percent.

In contrast, only 5.7 percent of kids who watched less than one hour per day would go on to commit aggressive actions against others.

Now, to be clear, violence in television isn't nearly as large an influence on future violent behavior as is living in an abusive home (or, say, having an obligation to avenge your family after your corrupt uncle ruined them), but it is seemingly enough to make otherwise complacent children into burgeoning criminals.

What we watch definitely has an affect on the way that we think, what we think, and how we think. 

Much of today's programming does little more than insult the intelligence of the viewer. It turns us into gawking voyeurs waiting for the inevitable. 

Does anyone really doubt that five or six women glued together at the hip on a reality show until their familiarity becomes contempt, won't eventually argue, bicker and fight? We expect it. We wait for it, and some of us actually enjoy it.

The fact of the matter is, what we feed our minds becomes what we crave, and if we feed our minds junk, our way of thinking, no matter how subtle, will become corrupted. We have to forever be cognoscente of how we nourish our minds, or we will become malnourished.


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