Oh rats. Oreos found to be addictive due to high sugar and fat
By The Hartford
Courant, adapted by Newsela staff on 10.23.13 Word Count 687
Jaimie Robinson (right) and her friend Emilee Aversa eat Double
Stuf Oreo cookies on Feb. 3, 2005, in Chicago, Ill. Chuck Berman/Chicago
Oreos may be as
addictive as cocaine — for rats, anyway — according to a new study from
The study was run by
neuroscience professor Joseph Schroeder and his students, and was designed to
consider the potential addictiveness of foods with high fat and sugar content.
What they found was that eating the cookies activated more neurons in the
brain's "pleasure center" than exposure to cocaine or morphine.
They also found that
the association rats formed between Oreos and a feeding chamber were as strong
as associations to places where drugs were dispensed.
supports the theory that high-fat, high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the
same way that drugs do," Schroeder said. "It may explain why some
people can't resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad
Rats Prefer Oreos To
The original idea for
the research came from neuroscience major Jamie Honohan. Honohan, who
graduated in May, was interested in the fact that so many people in lowerincome
communities are obese (https://www.newsela.com/?tag=obesity). "Our goal
was to design a study to explore the hypothesis that high-fat, high-sugar foods
have the same addictive potential as drugs of abuse," Honohan said.
There was a reason
Oreos were chosen rather than a high-fat, high-sugar rat chow, Schroeder said.
"We speciﬁcally wanted to choose a food that was palatable to humans so
that we could make a direct correlation from rats to a problem facing
Honohan said she also
wanted to use a product that was common in grocery stores. And, she noted, some
research has showed that rats like Oreos.
The study was
conducted by setting up two adjoining chambers for the rats. In one experiment,
rats were given Oreo cookies in one space and rice cakes in the other. It was
clear, Honohan said, that the rats preferred the Oreos. They split the cookies
apart and devoured the cream ﬁrst and then went on to eat the cookies. While
they often didn't bother to ﬁnish the rice cakes, that wasn't the case with the
humans, rats don't seem to get much pleasure out of eating (rice cakes),"
Second Experiment Uses
Then, the food was
removed and the rats were given the option of spending time in either chamber.
The rats spent far more time in the chamber where the Oreos had been than in
the chamber where the rice cakes had been.
In a second
experiment, rats were given a shot of cocaine or morphine in one chamber, while
they received a shot of saline in the other. Again, the substances were removed
and the rats were given the choice of which chamber to spend time in.
The research showed
that the cookie-conditioned rats chose to spend as many hours in the Oreos
chamber as the drug-conditioned rats spent in the chambers where drugs had been
In a second part of
the research, Schroeder and his students measured the increased neuron activity
in the part of the brain that registers pleasure. The cookies activated
signiﬁcantly more neurons than the drugs.
well with our behavioral results and lends support to the hypothesis that
high-fat, high-sugar foods are addictive," Schroeder said.
Honohan said she hopes
the research will lead to a greater understanding of how difﬁcult it may be for
people to quit eating high-fat, high-sugar foods that can lead to
obesity. "Maybe we can approach obesity the same way we address
people addicted to drugs, because neurologically, it's the same," she
said. "Oreos and other high-fat, high-sugar foods have this potential to
be just as addicting as drugs of abuse."
Honohan said that in
some ways, junk foods may "be more dangerous to society than drugs because
you don't have to go (into) a dark alley to buy them. You go into any grocery
store or bodega, and they are highly available and affordable. They target kids
and families on a budget."
As for Oreos, Honohan
is done with them. She used to eat them before her research. "Now I can't
even look at them," she said.