As of 2012, Oreo cookies were bringing in a stunning $2 billion a year in sales; now research out of Connecticut College may reveal why many of us are so irrevocably drawn to “Milk’s Favorite Cookie.”

Interest in the obesity epidemic led Joseph Schroeder, the director of the Behavioral Neuroscience program at Connecticut College, and four of his students to investigate whether high-fat, high-sugar foods could be as addictive as drugs.

“My research interests stemmed from a curiosity for studying human behavior and our motivations when it comes to food,” said neuroscience major Jamie Honohan. “We chose Oreos not only because they are America’s favorite cookie, and highly palatable to rats, but also because products containing high amounts of fat and sugar are heavily marketed in communities with lower socioeconomic statuses.”

They found that when the rats ate the confections — which are primarily a mix of sugar, flour, oil, and high-fructose corn syrup — more neurons in the brain’s “pleasure center” were activated than by drugs known for their addictive nature.

“We found that the behavior they exhibited was equally strong for Oreo cookies as it was for cocaine or morphine,” Schroeder told WCBS 880. “When we looked in the pleasure center of the brain, we found that the Oreo cookies activated the pleasure center more so than cocaine would activate the same center.”

“Overall, it lent support to the hypothesis that high fat, high sugar foods can be viewed in the same was as drugs of abuse and have addictive potential,” Schroeder said. “It could be used to explain why some people have a problem staying away from foods that they know they shouldn’t eat or that they know are addictive.”

The research will be presented in November at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego.

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