The purpose of the study was to look at the potential addictiveness of high-fat and high-sugar foods. Professor Joseph Schroeder and his students found that eating cookies activated more neurons in the brain's pleasure center than drug exposure.
“Our research supports the theory that high-fat, high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” Schroeder said. “It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them.”
During the study a group of rats on one side of a maze was given Oreos while another group on the other side was given rice cakes.
“Just like humans, rats don’t seem to get much pleasure out of eating them,” Schroeder said of the rice cakes.
Then, rats on one side of the maze were given a shot of cocaine or morphine while rats on the other side were given saline.
The results showed that rats conditioned with Oreos spent as much time on the "drug" side of the maze as those conditioned with cocaine or morphine.
“This correlated well with our behavioral results and lends support to the hypothesis that high-fat, high-sugar foods are addictive,” Schroeder said.
The professor, who is licensed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to purchase and use controlled substances for research, said he chose Oreos because they wanted to use food that was appetizing to humans.
He added that just like humans, rats also started eating the creamy center rather than the cookie itself.
“Even though we associate significant health hazards in taking drugs like cocaine and morphine, high-fat, high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability,” said Jamie Honohan, a neuroscience major who graduated in May, and is credited with coming up with the experiment.