Gorging on junk food is as addictive as smoking or taking drugs and can cause compulsive eating and obesity, says a new study.

An international team, led by the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, has carried out the study and found that burgers, chips and pizzas can well programme one’s brain into craving even more sugar, salt and fat laden food.

Dr. Paul Kenny, who led the study, said the findings, which took three years to complete, confirmed the “addictive” properties of junk food - in fact, like addiction to other substances, junk food bingeing is extremely difficult to stop.

He was quoted by ‘The Daily Telegraph’ as saying, “Obesity may be a form of compulsive eating. Other treatments in development for other forms of compulsion, for example drug addiction, may be very useful for the treatment of obesity.

“The new study explains what happens in the brain of these animals when they have easy access to high-calorie, high-fat food. It presents the most thorough and compelling evidence that drug addiction and obesity are based on the same underlying neurobiological mechanisms.”

For their study conducted on rats, scientists divided the animals into three groups. One got normal healthy food to eat, another was given restricted amounts of junk food and the third had unlimited amounts of junk food like cheesecake, meat products, cheap sponge cakes and chocolate snacks.

There were no adverse effects on the first two groups.

But those which ate as much junk food as they wanted quickly became very fat and started bingeing.

When the scientists electronically stimulated the part of the brain that feels pleasure, they found the rats became addicted on a bad diet just like people who became dependent on cocaine and heroin.

“They always went for the worst types of food and as a result, they took in twice the calories as the control rats. When we removed the junk food and tried to put them on a nutritious diet, they simply refused to eat,” Dr. Kenny said.

While the findings cannot be directly transferred to human obesity, the study, published in ‘Nature Neuroscience’ journal, suggests that human brains may react in the same way to junk food as it does to drugs.