Oreos = Cocaine (Huh?)

The Flying Leap of Faith Award™ this week goes to intrepid health reporters and editors who filled the media with headlines saying “Oreos are just as addictive as cocaine.” Someone please call the DEA.

The basis for the headlines — hundreds of them — was a press release from Connecticut College about undergraduate research soon to be presented at a neuroscience conference. Peer review has happened, so far, mainly in the media.

The research definitely proved that lab rats like Oreos better than rice cakes. The researchers concluded that rats preferred Oreos over rice cakes as strongly as they preferred morphine and cocaine over a saline placebo. Said Professor Joseph Schroeder who supervised this research of his undergraduate students:

Our research supports the theory that high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do. It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.

One of the researchers, Jamie Honohan, observed that the rats eating an Oreo “would break it open and eat the middle first.” Very appealing imagery.

A few reporters stopped to think about the press release they were fed and checked with other experts on addiction. Edith London  of UCLA studies the neurological basis of drug cravings. She debunked the “Oreos = Cocaine” headlines, saying:

The study performed cannot determine whether Oreos are as addictive as cocaine. That question is best addressed in a comparison of how hard a rat will work for Oreos versus cocaine — how many times a rat will press a lever to get one or the other.

Perhaps the press office at Connecticut College demonstrated another sort of addiction — an addiction to sensational health and nutrition headlines.

Click here to read the press release from Connecticut College, click here to read more in LiveScience, and click here to read the abstract submitted to Neuroscience 2013.

Oreo Squirrel, photograph © Tomi Tapio / flickr

The Flying Leap of Faith Award™ is a trademark of ConscienHealth. OREO is a registered trademark of Mondelēz International group.

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