Tobacco companies linked to proliferation of unhealthy “hyperpalatable” foods

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A recent study conducted at the University of Kansas and published in the journal Addiction has uncovered a concerning connection between tobacco companies and the widespread availability of “hyperpalatable” foods in the United States.

These foods, designed to be irresistibly tasty through high levels of fats, sugars, and salts, have been linked to health problems like obesity.

The Role of Tobacco Companies

In the late 20th century, several tobacco companies expanded their business interests into the food industry.

Lead author Tera Fazzino’s research indicates that food brands owned by tobacco companies were more likely to produce hyperpalatable foods compared to those not under tobacco ownership.

Between 1988 and 2001, tobacco-owned foods were 29% more likely to be categorized as fat-and-sodium hyperpalatable and 80% more likely to be carbohydrate-and-sodium hyperpalatable.

Impact on the American Diet

The study reveals a startling statistic: approximately 68% of the American food supply now consists of hyperpalatable foods.

These foods are not only pervasive but also often more affordable than healthier alternatives like fresh fruits and vegetables.

The study suggests that the infiltration of hyperpalatable foods into the American food system may be a calculated move by companies aiming to encourage addictive eating behaviors.

Health Consequences

Overconsumption of hyperpalatable foods can lead to obesity and related health issues. These foods can manipulate the brain’s reward system and disrupt signals of fullness, making it easier to overeat.

Fazzino emphasizes that the situation goes beyond personal choices and highlights how these foods are deliberately formulated to promote excessive consumption.

Fazzino proposes that regulating the formulation of foods designed to induce sustained eating could be a potential solution. The concept of hyperpalatability might serve as a metric for these regulations, helping to address the issue at its source.

Legacy of Tobacco Companies

Although many tobacco companies have divested from the food industry since the early to mid-2000s, their influence persists, with a significant portion of the American diet still consisting of hyperpalatable foods.

This study underscores the urgent need to investigate the relationship between corporate interests and public health.

As tobacco and food industries become increasingly intertwined, understanding this connection becomes vital in addressing health crises related to diet and obesity.

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