Tobacco-Owned Food Brands Linked to Hyperpalatable, Addictive Foods, Study Reveals

by Ella

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas has shed light on the connection between tobacco-owned food brands in the United States and the promotion of highly addictive and unhealthy foods, contributing to widespread health issues such as obesity.

The enticing and addictive nature of many American foods, often referred to as “junk food,” is a well-known concern. These foods, characterized by their combination of salt, sugar, and high fat content, are now being scientifically labeled as “hyperpalatable.”


The study, published on September 8 in the peer-reviewed journal Addiction, suggests that food brands owned by tobacco companies, which made significant investments in the U.S. food industry during the 1980s, have played a role in the distribution of “hyperpalatable foods” to the American populace.


Lead author Tera Fazzino, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kansas and associate director of the Cofrin Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment at the KU Life Span Institute, explained, “Hyperpalatable foods can be irresistible and difficult to stop eating. They have combinations of palatability-related nutrients, specifically fat, sugar, sodium, or other carbohydrates that occur in combinations together.”


Fazzino’s prior research revealed that a staggering 68% of the American food supply falls into the hyperpalatable category. These nutrient combinations provide an enhanced eating experience that can make these foods challenging to resist.


The study found that between 1988 and 2001, food brands owned by tobacco companies were 29% more likely to be classified as “fat-and-sodium hyperpalatable” and 80% more likely to be classified as “carbohydrate-and-sodium hyperpalatable” compared to foods not associated with tobacco ownership.

Although the study did not delve into the intent behind these actions, it suggests that tobacco companies were consistently involved in the development and promotion of hyperpalatable foods during their prominent presence in the American food system.

While tobacco companies have divested from the U.S. food system in the early to mid-2000s, hyperpalatable foods continue to maintain a significant presence in the American diet. These foods, rich in fat, sodium, and carbohydrates, persist as staples, making up over 57% of the food supply.

Tera Fazzino points out the challenge of finding non-hyperpalatable foods, noting that healthier options, like fresh fruits and vegetables, are not only less accessible but also more expensive.

Hyperpalatable foods can lead to overeating and obesity-related health issues, even when consumers do not intend to overindulge. The study underscores the potential need for regulations on foods engineered to trigger sustained consumption by combining ingredients in ways that the human body is ill-prepared to handle.

“These foods may be designed to make you eat more than you planned,” warns Fazzino. “It’s not just about personal choice and watching what you eat – they can kind of trick your body into eating more than you actually want.”



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