Everyone knows that junk food is harmful for health. However, unhealthy fast food chains are spreading here and there as a plague every day. As a consequence, the world is becoming sicker and sicker and health care systems are collapsing. In this scenario, the most worrying situation is that newborns can have greater predisposition to be obese and preference for junk food. It is clear that what mothers eat during pregnancy matters. But how can junk food have such as big impact on babies? So, could it be an addiction to junk food?
A study showed that pregnant rats that love junk food can pass the addiction to their offspring (1). Apparently, transmission to babies can happen in 3 different ways. The first one is due to some subtle genetic changes. The second one is by maternal gut microbes that got passed on at birth and the last one via suckling. Experiments have been done on rats, but how does that apply to humans?
The answer is unclear but knowing all the side effects of junk food, it is better to avoid it at every stage of life. Regardless of whether someone is pregnant or not. The long term ultra-processed food consumption will only and inevitably lead to chronic diseases such diabetes, cancer, arthritis…
Addiction like cocaine
Apparently junk food can alter rat-brain activity in a manner that some believe is similar to addictive drugs like cocaine. An American research found that the pleasure centre of some rats’ brain became easily desensitised to the neurochemical dopamine (2).
But how can it happen?
Researchers discovered that in order to desensitise dopamine levels, it is only necessary to consume unlimited quantities of highly processed food for five days. As a consequence, rats required yet more of the same to keep the pleasure going (3).
What happened when the junk food was stopped?
Interestingly, the now obese rats preferred to slowly starve for two weeks rather than return to eating a healthier diet. Without a doubt, junk food causes an effect on the pleasure-seeking centres in the brain. Fast ultra-processed food is eaten very fast, but the consequence on the brain persist for a longer time.
Fast food brands have “conquered” UK high streets in less than 10 years despite of the anti-obesity campaign, led by UK health authorities. The UK has “suffered” 34% increase in fast food outlets from 2010 to 2018. In 2010, the average number of fast food shops per 100.000 people was 47. However, last year it rose to 61 according to Office for National Statistic (ONS)(4). Additionally, the rate of severe obesity in children from 10 to 11 is record-high, up by more than a third since 2006, to 4,2%, according to Public Health England (5).