One in EIGHT US adults are addicted to highly processed food

More than one in eight middle-aged and elderly Americans are addicted to ultra-processed foods, a national survey suggests. 

It found that 13 percent of adults 50 to 80 exhibit signs of food addiction, including physical withdrawals, eating more than planned, and an inability to cut back.

Forty-four percent of respondents said they had at least one of the symptoms outlined in the simple 11-question questionnaire, which you can take yourself below.

Experts speaking to last year called for junk food to be reclassified as drugs.

Scroll down to take the test and find out if you are addicted to junk food


The survey devised by researchers at the University of Michigan asks respondents to indicate whether they fulfil at least two of 11 criteria for food addiction, plus significant distress two to three times a week on at least one of the final distress or impairment items.

If you answer yes to at least two of the symptoms below, you could be addicted to highly processed foods, which are any foods that have been altered in some way during preparation.

I have such strong urges to eat certain foods that I can’t think of anything else at least once a week. 

I have tried and failed to cut down on or stop eating certain foods two to three times in a week.

My tolerance to food has increased so I do not feel as satisfied as I used to 

I spend too much time spent to obtain and consume junk food

I have given up time spent on recreational and occupational activities

I overeat to the point that I cause emotional problems at least once a week

I have an inability to fulfill obligations at least once a month

I eat even when there is an increased risk of physical harm such as while driving at least once a month

I often feel tired or sluggish as a result of my overeating 

I ate to the point where I felt physically ill at least once a week 

I deal with withdrawal in response to abstinence or decreased use of ultraprocessed foods, such as headaches, fatigue, and irritability

My eating behavior causes me a lot of distress two to three times a week

I have significant problems at least twice a week in my life because of my eating such as problems with my daily routine, work, school, family, or health. 


Eating a lot of highly processed food can have several negative health effects that increases a person’s risk of serious health issues like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes

The results came from the latest National Poll on Healthy Aging conducted by the University of Michigan

Scientists believe this is because such foods activate the same reward pathways in the brain that mediate drug addiction. Eating junk food releases a rush of dopamine in the brain.

The questionnaire asked respondents to report experiencing at least two of a list of 11 indicators of food addiction in addition to two more questions to measure the extent to which their lives have been impaired by their addiction.

Forty-four percent of respondents said they had at least one of the symptoms outlined in the questionaire.

Women were more likely than men to be addicted to ultraprocessed foods such as sweets, salty snacks, sugary drinks, and fast food. Addiction to ultraprocessed food was also found in 17 percent of adults age 50 to 64, and eight percent of adults age 65 to 80 as well as 22 percent of women age 50 to 64 and 18 percent of women age 50 to 80.

Men and women who considered themselves to already be in poor physical shape were more than twice as likely to exhibit signs of addiction – 32 percent and 14 percent respectively.

Meanwhile, addiction to junk food was also seen in 45 percent of women who say their mental health is fair or poor, and 23 percent of men who say the same. That is three times as high as the percentages among those who say their mental health is excellent, very good, or good.

Addiction was also seen in more than half of women who reported feelings of isolation while 26 percent of men said the same.

UM psychologist Dr Ashley Gearhardt said: ‘The word addiction may seem strong when it comes to food, but research has shown that our brains respond as strongly to highly processed foods, especially those highest in sugar, simple starches, and fat, as they do to tobacco, alcohol and other addictive substances.’

Dr Gearhardt, with the help of scientists at Yale University, co-developed the questionnaire used in the study called the Yale Food Addiction Scale.

‘Just as with smoking or drinking, we need to identify and reach out to those who have entered unhealthy patterns of use and support them in developing a healthier relationship with food,’ she added.

Intense cravings was the most common symptom with almost one in four saying that at least once a week they had a an urge to eat a piece of junk food so strong that they could not think of anything else. And 19 percent said that they had tried and failed at least twice a week to cut down on those foods or eliminate them altogether.

A proclivity for highly processed foods greatly increases a person’s risk of developing obesity, which has become a major public health issue in America. 

The number of Americans who are obese has been surging for decades, with four in 10 now medically too fat. 

Poll director Dr Jeffrey Kullgren, an associate professor of internal medicine at Michigan Medicine, said: ‘Clinicians need a better understanding of how food addiction and problematic eating intertwines with their patients’ physical and mental health, including chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer.’

‘We need to understand that cravings and behaviors around food are rooted in brain chemistry and heredity, and that some people may need additional help just as they would to quit smoking or drinking.’