New research has revealed that cupcakes could be just as addictive as drugs and cigarettes.

Findings from 28 studies in the past year, conducted by US scientists, discovered that food sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup can affect the brains of obese people and compulsive eaters.

In one study, individuals were shown pictures of food such as cake and reacted in a way that the chemical dopamine would hit the decision-making area of the brain called the orbital frontal cortex. The same reaction was found when cocaine addicts were shown a bag of the Class A drug.

A study on rats also revealed that those fed on syrup developed brain and behaviour changes similar to rodents hooked on morphine.

Ann Ashworth, spokesperson and research expert at the British Dietetic Association, said: “It is well accepted that the brain needs glucose, which is obtained mainly from carbohydrates in foods, to work well. This comes from things such as added sugar in cakes, pastries and biscuits.
“The bottom line for the baking industry is that both the USA and the UK population are suffering from increasing levels of obesity.  A small iced fairy cake can give 115 kcals, whereas larger cupcakes can give at least 233 calories. For many of us there is nothing wrong in having these foods occasionally.  However, most people, especially those who are overweight, need to limit the amounts of sugary foods they eat.”

Martha Swift, co-owner of Primrose Bakery, dismissed claims made in the research and said: “I don’t think you could in any way class cupcakes as addictive as drugs or cigarettes – and certainly not in as bad a way. I think you can be addicted to sugar but it is much easier to control.

“We do have plenty of repeat customers at Primrose and I hope they are addicted to our cakes, but in a good way. I find that the regular customers tend to have a favourite flavour or cake, so they go through stages of having to have one particular flavour on a regular basis, rather than having to eat say 10 of them.”

The cupcake boom is ever-growing in the UK, with 2009 sales reaching around £37m and supermarket chain Morrisons selling 200,000 Royal Wedding cupcakes this year.