Is there an addiction that primarily affects one gender in one age demographic in rich countries? Survey data using the National Poll on Healthy Aging says there may be. 

The results were that about 13 percent of people from ages 50 to 80 responded in ways that could be interpreted as addiction to foods and beverages in the past year. Prevalence was much higher among women than men – older Generation X and younger Baby Boomer women.

Less surprisingly it was higher in people who say they are overweight, lonely, or in fair or poor physical or mental health. Anyone who has gone from active to sedentary without lowering their calorie intake knows how fast weight can add up. It is a lot easier to eat an extra 1,000 calories per day than to abstain from them.

Ill-defined terms like "ultra-processed" food makes no difference in metabolism, it is all calories. Any nutritionist who drops buzzwords like "refined" and "ultra-processed" is a sign you signed up with a lifestyle coach and not anyone who knows what they are talking about. By now, everyone knows that too many calories make you fat - that is it, end of story, not trans fats or white sugar as some evil addictive peril - and everyone knows companies want to make their food as delicious as possible. There aren't a lot of marketing campaigns for rutabaga because difficult root vegetables just don't taste that great.

Food fundamentalists stopped calling it "processed" food and pivoted to "ultra-processed" after a California 'warning label' referendum failed because the science community noted that the warning label would apply to organic bread. Virtually everything people buy in a store is processed. "Refined" is likewise scientifically meaningless but cultural mullahs are sure they know it when they see it. Image: Credit: University of Michigan

That is not to say some people won't want to wrap themselves in the flag of addiction. It is egalitarian and exculpatory and that means no guilt about anything. If you can be addicted to video games, and not just have terrible impulse control, then you can be addicted to food. Or anything else. But whether or not that is an actual clinical disorder is another matter; DSM-5 can and will label anything a disorder but that does not make it real, it just means it is in a glossary they update a few years based on votes for what new to add their buyers want added.

The scientific confounder is that this was only 13 questions using 2,163 adults on the phone and a website, which was then manually weighted by the authors of the paper, but from those survey responses the authors declared whether those older adults have indicators of addiction; but the authors only care about sweets, salty snacks, sugary drinks and fast food. That looks like an agenda. All that you needed to be considered addicted using the Yale Food Addiction Scale is that you crave it, you don't want to cut back on it, and you self-identify as having signs of withdrawal if you don't get it when you want it.

Using that metric, if you buy KFC chicken every two weeks, you are addicted to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In "So I Married An Ax-Murderer" Charlie's hilariously father believed Kentucky Fried Chicken co-founder Colonel Sanders was part of a secret cabal to control everyone using his food. Now food frequency questionnaires take that as a given and use the food version of the Implicit Bias Test to tell you how addicted you are to "refined" sugar.

Though the paper is only exploratory, there is no biological hypothesis for why some people prefer one "ultra-processed" food while others do not, the authors contend their survey results should be made into clinical practice and become part of a screening protocol at doctors’ offices. They believe it could help identify older adults with addictive eating habits who might benefit from nutrition counseling.

Let me say it again, surveys are exploratory. You ask a right-wing climate change denier or a left-wing organic food shopper if they are anti-science on a survey, they will say they are not. And yet they will behave in anti-science ways. Surveys are meaningless when it comes to understanding actual behavior. Every correlation result comes with a 'no causation' disclaimer and yet in press releases it happens far too often that authors state their results are causal and need a policy response, like in this case.

They also advocate for more 'affordable' access to healthier foods but "Healthier" food is not more expensive, people just don't order it on DoorDash. Like with health care, subsidies will only make it more expensive for everyone and have terrible quality suddenly be called good enough because everyone has equal access to it on government documents.

We did evolve to seek out food with more calories, that is the only real science in this. Farmers from the earlier days of agriculture manipulated fruits to be tastier. There is only one wine grape that has not been genetically modified to be better than it was a few hundred years ago and a tomato or banana in its original natural form would have Karens and Chads yelling at a Whole Foods manager today. Companies know you want food that tastes good, so that is what they make. Calling it an addiction the same as smoking or alcohol or drugs does a real disservice to the addiction community, because a real addiction cannot be cured in days the way going without Doritos can.