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In the United States, and in an increasing number of countries around the world, poor people tend to be fat and wealthier people tend to be thin. In the US, high-fructose corn syrup, fortified white flour, and soybean oil are considered essential commodities so the government ensures they are available and cheap -- but no government agency ensures that poor people have a steady supply of yogurt with live cultures, chicken breast, or arugula.
As a result, Americans are almost (but not quite) the fattest people in the world.
Even worse, a group of undergraduate students at Connecticut College have found, cheap fast foods like Oreos are addictive.
Honohan and collaborators constructed a maze with two sides for lab rats to explore. When lab rats reached one side of the maze, they were rewarded with rice cakes. When lab rats reached the other side of the maze, they were rewarded with Oreos. The student researchers noted the amount of time the rats spent on each side of the maze.
The research team also repeated the experiment with different rewards, an injection of salt water when the lab rat reached one side of the maze, and an injection of cocaine or morphine when the rat reached the other. The researchers monitored that amount of time the rats spent seeking each reward. The undergraduate neurology team also gave the rats brain scans that measured the number of neurons in the brain's pleasure center, the nucleus accumbens, that were activated by eating Oreos.
The lab rats that had learned how to find Oreos spent the same amount of time on the cocaine/morphine side of the maze as those that settled for rice cakes. But when rats that had learned to eat Oreos were given cocaine, their brains "lit up" more than the brains of rats that had been conditioned to eat rice cakes.
The researchers conclude that fat and sugar and salt (or chocolate cookies with a creme filling) not only have potent effects on the pleasure centers of the brain, they set up the consumer for addiction to some hard drugs, such as cocaine or heroin (which is functionally similar to morphine).