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Why Do Tobacco Company-Owned Foods Taste “Irresistible”?
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Addictive Formulas: Why Do Tobacco Company-Owned Foods Taste “Irresistible”?
In the United States, the association between tobacco brands and the promotion of addictive, unhealthy foods has contributed to widespread health issues like obesity. Many of us are acutely aware of the addictive nature of many food products available in the American market, often referred to as “junk food.” In fact, these salty, sweet, high-fat foods make up the majority of food sales in the United States.
A recent study from the University of Kansas sheds light on how American tobacco food brands have played a role in promoting these super-tasty, albeit unhealthy, foods. These foods are laden with salt, fat, and sugar, designed to be irresistible and contributing to health problems such as obesity. Despite tobacco companies divesting from the food industry, the popularity of super-tasty foods persists.
The research was published in the peer-reviewed journal “Addiction” on September 8th.
Research Findings and Impact:
Lead author Tera Fazzino, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas and Associate Director of the Lifespan Institute’s Cofrin-Logan Addiction Research and Treatment Center, stated, “We used various data sources to investigate how the American tobacco companies have been involved in the promotion and dissemination of super-tasty foods within the food system.”
“Super-tasty foods are incredibly hard to resist, leading to excessive consumption. They feature a combination of nutrients associated with palatability, particularly fat, sugar, salt, or other refined carbohydrates, all present together.”
Fazzino’s prior research indicated that 68% of the food supply in the United States today consists of super-palatable foods.
She added, “This combination of nutrients creates a truly enhanced eating experience that makes it difficult to stop eating. These effects differ from consuming high-fat foods without sugar, salt, or other types of refined carbohydrates.”
Fazzino and her co-authors found that between 1988 and 2001, tobacco foods were 29% more likely to be classified as high-fat and high-sodium foods and 80% more likely to be categorized as high-carbohydrate and high-sodium foods compared to non-tobacco foods.
Tobacco Companies and Their Intent:
Researchers at the University of Kansas used data from public repositories of internal tobacco industry documents to identify food company ownership and then conducted a longitudinal analysis using nutritional data from the United States Department of Agriculture to estimate the extent to which “tobacco ownership was associated with the formulation of high-palatability foods.”
Fazzino remarked, “As for their intent – from these data, we cannot definitively say. However, there is evidence to suggest that during the time when tobacco companies were major players in our food system, they were involved in owning and developing super-tasty foods selectively. Their involvement was distinct from companies without tobacco company parentage.”
Fazzino’s co-authors include KU doctoral students Daiil Jun and Kayla Bjorlie, as well as Lynn Chollet Hinton, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Data Science at KU Medical Center.
The KU researchers noted that their investigation was inspired by earlier work by Laura Schmidt at the University of California, San Francisco.
Fazzino stated, “She and her team found that the same tobacco company involved in the development of sugary beverages and extensive marketing targeting children was R.J. Reynolds, and Philip Morris was directly transferring tobacco marketing strategies aimed at racial and ethnic minority communities to sell their foods.”
Today’s Tasty Foods:
While tobacco companies withdrew from the American food system in the early to mid-2000s, the shadow of Big Tobacco may still linger. New research from the University of Kansas found that in 2018, regardless of previous tobacco ownership, the supply of high-fat and high-sodium foods (over 57%) and high-carbohydrate and high-sodium foods (over 17%) remained high, suggesting that these foods have become mainstream in the American diet.
“Most of the foods in our food supply fall into the category of super-tasty,” Fazzino remarked. “In fact, it’s challenging to find foods that don’t fall into the super-palatable category. Foods that are easy to find and readily accessible in our daily lives are mostly high-palatability foods. Those foods that are less palatable, like fresh fruits and vegetables, are not only hard to find but also expensive. When choosing between fresh and delicious foods like crispy apples and foods that are hard to stop eating, there isn’t much choice.”
Fazzino suggests that using a super-palatability metric could be a way to regulate the formulation of foods designed to induce continued consumption. Researchers noted, “The combinations of ingredients in these foods produce effects that do not occur when consuming these ingredients individually. These combinations do not exist in nature, so our bodies are not prepared to handle them. They excessively trigger our brain’s reward system, disrupting our satiety signals, which is why they are so difficult to resist.”
Therefore, consumers of super-tasty foods are more likely to suffer from obesity and related health consequences, even if they didn’t intend to overindulge.
Fazzino concluded, “The design of these foods can lead you to eat more than you planned. It’s not just a matter of personal choice and mindful eating – they compel your body to consume more than you actually intend to eat.”
(source:internet, reference only)