Wednesday, 03 Jun, 2009 Health & Fitness
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Eating Junk Food is a Hard-to-Break Habit

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Australian scientists found that junk food is addictive, which explains why a lot of people find it hard to break the habit, though being aware of the health problems linked with such food.

During their two-month research, scientists gave laboratory rats food rich in sugar and fat so they could put on weight. Scientists also wanted the rats to become "anxious" each time this food was replaced.

Zhi Yi On, post-graduate student at the University of South Australia, discovered that the rats chose to go hungry rather than start eating healthier food. "It seems like the desire for junk food has overridden their hunger signals, they would rather eat nothing ... than consume the chow as their energy source," she said.

Researchers prepared two groups of rats. The first group was fed with different biscuits, hazelnut spread, peanut butter, sugar-loaded cereals and cheese and bacon-flavored snacks, while the second was only given healthy-food-pellets. Throughout a 3-day period scientists monitored the rats and noticed that those that were given junk food ran around more than the second group.

"When not with the junk food they became more anxious ... they were probably suffering from junk food withdrawal," said Ms. Ong.

The first step of the study focused on the behavior of the rats. During the second phase, scientists will search for signs of an increased level of dopamine processing in the rats' brains. "We're speculating junk food can down-regulate (desensitize) the reward pathway in our brains. So if you have consumed too much, you have to consume more and more in order to feel the same happy feeling," said the researcher.

The study and its results were presented at an Adelaide meeting of The Australian Society for Medical Research.

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