Animal addicts are nothing new on this blog. But now researchers have shown that in addition to drink and drugs, rats can become addicted to junk food.
Anyone who's seen wild rats foraging in dumpsters would probably suspect that they are attracted to the worst products of mankind's grocery-industrial complex. But now, as reported by Science News, a couple of fiendish neuroscience researchers have brought this out in the open. Two neuroscientists named Paul, Johnson and Kenny,
loaded up on typical Western fare, including Ho Hos, sausage, pound cake, bacon and cheesecake. Johnson fed rats either a standard diet of high-nutrient, low-calorie chow, or unlimited amounts of the palatable junk food. Rats that ate the junk food soon developed compulsive eating habits and became obese.
The researchers found that the rats' brains showed the same changes as those of addicts, and what's more, that they would keep eating junk food even if they learned that an electric shock would follow it. And the rodents find it just as hard to break the habit as you do:
When the junk food was taken away and the rats had access only to nutritious chow (what Kenny calls the “salad option”), the obese rats refused to eat. “They starve themselves for two weeks afterward,” Kenny says. “Their dietary preferences are dramatically shifted.”
Maybe this should be the next big government nutrition education campaign. The next time you reach for that bag of chips, think about it - Do you really want to lower yourself to the level of a rat?
Picture of rat with cookie - which is so cute that it really contradicts the whole point of this post, I know - by Flickr user Klara Kim.