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Sunday 21 July 2019

How the rise of 'food porn' has put a weight on our minds

It's yet another stick with which to beat social media. So is Facebook really forcing us to eat more cake, asks Niamh Horan

Food porn
Food porn
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

A decade ago, you might have been tempted by the odd picture of mouth-watering food during a TV advert or on a cooking show.

But thanks to social media and the rise of ''food porn", pictures to make you salivate are everywhere and the trend is causing waistlines to grow.

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Obesity expert Dr Donal O'Shea says it normalises a generation of social media users' tendencies to choose high-calorie options.

"The way the human brain is designed, sugar is highly addictive and fat is very 'moreish'. And - if you combine fat and sugar - you hit the reward centres in the brain. Add high salt into that mix and you go up a level in terms of addictive behaviour. It is very hard to stop eating when you start eating that kind of food. And that's the kind of food promoted in these images. That combination is highly addictive and nutritionally poor."

The term ''food porn'' was first documented in writer Rosalind Coward's 1984 book Female Desire, but it didn't take on its current meaning until enticing food photos started to be shared through social media in the early 2000s. Photos and videos celebrate loaded toppings and oozing contents - in doughnuts and on pancakes, burgers and pizzas.

A study by Oxford University researchers has found that the trend for making food look beautiful and sharing photos online makes it harder to resist eating. The research, published in the journal Brain and Cognition, warned that ''regular exposure to virtual foods nowadays'' is ''triggering hunger more often than is perhaps good for us''.

Last week veteran UK politician Ann Widdecombe waded into the debate, saying: "I cannot bear the language TV chefs use - they don't seem able to look at a plate of vegetables without accusing it of sexual activity."

Dr O'Shea, the HSE's Clinical Lead for Obesity, says excessive eating and expanding waistlines have become normalised and high street chains are giving customers "the tools for denial" so profit margins won't suffer.

"There are massive health implications. We now know that over 200 medical conditions are linked to being overweight and obese. And yet we are promoting food that is driving it through the food porn movement and we have retailers that are upsizing their clothing lines so people don't twig the fact they are getting bigger."

He has called on the Government to start tackling the crisis with three key changes. Stressing "prevention is better than cure", he argues that - once obesity occurs - surgery is "incredibly effective" for weight reduction. He wants to end the stigma associated with it and increase the number of surgeries to tackle the crisis so that we fall in line with the rest of the world.

Secondly, he says "we need to admit that the food and drink industry is completely incapable of self-regulation and profit is their bottom line" and has asked the Government to regulate its behaviour.

Thirdly, he says: "We need to introduce more physical activity and make it easier to actively commute to work by improving cycle paths. This would introduce physical activity into people's everyday environment which is incredibly effective for weight reduction in the long run."

Sunday Independent

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