ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Your parent’s drinking habits decades ago may be influencing your grocery list today, according to researchers from the University of Michigan. Scientists say that if one or both parents have a history of alcoholism, their children are more likely to show signs of addiction to highly processed foods.
Ultra-processed foods like ice cream, fries, and pizza contain extremely high levels of refined carbohydrates and fats that may trigger an “addictive response” in certain individuals, study authors explain.
Having a parent who has dealt with alcohol use disorder is already a big risk factor for addiction among children in general, according to previous studies. The team at UM set out to examine how parental alcohol habits influence their kids’ processed food intake specifically.
All in all, as many as one in five people appear to display this clinically significant addiction to highly processed foods, characterized by an inability to control their food intake, intense cravings, and finding it very hard to cut back despite all of the negative consequences.
“People who have a family history of addiction may be at greater risk for developing a problematic relationship with highly processed foods, which is really challenging in a food environment where these foods are cheap, accessible and heavily marketed,” says lead study author and UM psychology graduate student Lindzey Hoover in a university release.
An addiction to junk food may not be the only problem
Notably, researchers say some of the observed addictive responses did not only involve food. Those classified as having food addiction were also more likely to exhibit problems in connection with various vices such as alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco or vaping.
Chowing down on some chips or relaxing with a beer or two may not sound like the worst habit in the world, but study authors remind us that diets largely consisting of highly processed foods and an excessive intake of addictive substances are among the leading causes of preventable deaths on a global scale.
In conclusion, researchers say their work suggests that society is in dire need of interventions that work to simultaneously reduce both addictive eating and substance use.
“Public health approaches that have reduced the harm of other addictive substances, like restricting marketing to kids, may be important to consider to reduce the negative impact of highly processed foods,” Hoover concludes.
The study is published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.