According to a new survey conducted by the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan, about 13% of adults between the ages of 50 and 80 meet the criteria for addiction to highly processed foods, and 44% of adults in this age range have at least one symptom of addiction to highly processed foods.
The survey was conducted in July of 2022 and included a national sample of adults ages 50–80. It included 13 questions that measured the core indicators of addiction to highly processed foods, including feeling a loss of control over consumption of these foods, intense cravings, or signs of withdrawal (such as irritability, headaches, or difficulty concentrating). Highly processed foods can be addictive for many people, and examples of highly processed foods include soft drinks, chips, candy, and fast food.
About 44% of survey respondents reported at least one symptom of addiction; the most commonly reported symptom was intense cravings, and the second most common symptom was an inability to lower intake of processed foods in spite of wanting to do so. Of the respondents, 13% met the criteria for an addiction to highly processed foods in the past year, meaning they had two or more symptoms of addiction plus significant impairment or distress. Women were more likely than men to be addicted to highly processed foods, and younger respondents (ages 50–64) were more likely to be addicted than older respondents (ages 65–80). Addiction was also more likely in respondents who reported being overweight or isolated and who reported fair or poor mental health (compared to excellent, very good, or good mental health).
Highly processed foods contain large amounts of sugar and fat and tend to lack other nutrients. These foods can be major contributors to chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease when they make up a major portion of calorie intake. Especially for older adults, monitoring intake and addressing signs of addiction is an important step to optimize heart and whole-body health.