Expert Says Oreo Cookie Research is Nonsense

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • If you follow health news as closely as I do, you know that one day a study is in, and the next day, it’s out, or at minimum its veracity is being questioned.  No surprise to me, since many studies are small, their methods may be flawed or not to the standard of an objective, double blind study, or the data collected could be misinterpreted. 


    Sometimes when researchers try to expand or reproduce the study, they do not get the same result, which puts the original study into question.  On rare occasions, there may be a group that doesn’t like the results and they are inspired to find a way to conduct the study differently, in order to extrapolate contrary results. 

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    In this case, a psychobiologist, Professor John Blundell, who is also the chair of the Department of Psychobiology at the University of Leeds, says that initial research on rats and Oreo cookie consumption recently shared in the media was grossly overstated by the original researchers and then by reporters.


    Professor Blundell suggests that in this particular study, and in many others, the researchers' training is severely lacking and leads to simplified references and, therefore, flawed interpretation.  He claims that the rodent behavior cannot be compared to what an average human might do in the same study circumstances.  In fact, according to a report by Food Navigator, he says there was a “sad lack of logical analysis” of the Oreo and rat study outcome.  Professor Blundell concedes to the possibility that a small subset of the population may be “food addicts,” but says the term is overused and there is “confused thinking on this subject.” 


    To be clear about the actual research, part one of the study looked at rats who were given cocaine or morphine on one side of a maze, while on the other side they received a saline salt solution.  After exposures, the rats were “timed” to see how long they would remain at the morphine/cocaine side versus the other side with “less benefits.”  The rats were then taken to a maze that offered Oreo cookies on one side of the maze and rice cakes on the other side.  The rats were clearly more attracted to the Oreo cookie side and spent similar (actually more) time there, compared to the time spent at the cocaine/morphine site.  The researchers therefore concluded that high fat/high sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs like cocaine and morphine do, and it may explain why some people can’t resist these types of foods, even if the food is “bad for them.” 


    The study is still unpublished and has not been reviewed, but the author of the study, Professor Schroeder, plans to present the findings at a conference in November.  Using myself as an example, I can tell that I still crave the highly processed creamy sweet food cakes I was fed too often as a child.  I found myself unable to control portions when I was young and still find that I cannot trust myself to have “just one” as an adult. 


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    Am I part of this small subset that Professor Blundell suggests is not representative of most people?  Frankly, many people that I talk to claim to similarly struggle after repeated exposures to highly processed and refined foods.  So I think Professor Schroeder is on to something, but the research may require some new methodology, a larger population and some more strict data analysis.  What do you think??



    Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch?  Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103.  Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.  


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Published On: October 22, 2013