A sizable number of older Americans are addicted to junk food, according to a new survey from the University of Michigan.
The survey, conducted as part the university’s National Poll on Healthy Aging, found that one in eight adults between the ages of 50 and 80 met the criteria for addiction to highly processed food items, such as sugary sodas, chips and fast-food fare. And 44% of the older-adult population had at least one symptom of addiction, whether it was intense cravings for these foods or the inability to cut down on eating them.
Older women were more than twice as likely as men to meet the food-addiction criteria, the survey also found. In particular, 22% of women aged 50-64 met the criteria.
The University of Michigan pointed to the obvious reason for concern over addiction to junk food.
“Nutrient-poor diets dominated by these foods are a major contributor to chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer, all of which are leading causes of preventable death around the world,” the university said.
Ashley Gearhardt, a psychologist with the university, noted that food addiction is no less real than other forms of addiction.
“The word addiction may seem strong when it comes to food, but research has shown that our brains respond as strongly to highly processed foods, especially those highest in sugar, simple starches, and fat, as they do to tobacco, alcohol and other addictive substances,” said Gearhardt in a statement.
Gearhardt added, “Just as with smoking or drinking, we need to identify and reach out to those who have entered unhealthy patterns of use and support them in developing a healthier relationship with food.”