One in 20 people are addicted to food, according to a new study coming out of Memorial University. Everybody needs food to live, but for some people it goes beyond that, says Farrell Cahill, a senior PhD student working on the study.
“Food addiction is the compulsive and chronic need to eat food. All of us have a need to eat food, but we don’t all go through symptoms of withdrawal when we move away from food,” Cahill said.
“We can move away from certain types of food, and we don’t see these types of drug-related symptoms.”
Researchers took a survey developed by Yale University to diagnose food addiction, and applied it to 700 people in the province, looking at the relationship between obesity and food addiction.
What they found is 5.4 per cent of the group wasaddicted to food.
Cahill said that when it comes to obesity, it’s not possible to simply say that food addiction is the cause, but it’s definitely one factor for some people. Even people who aren’t overweight or obese can be addicted to food, and that might make them more prone to obesity in the future.
“We cannot fight obesity just with physiological parameters; we need to look at it from psychological and behavioural parameters as well,” Cahill said.
“What we’re really saying is that when people are coming into a clinical setting and trying to deal with obesity management, we’re saying now food addiction needs to be one of those critical things we look at.”
In this context, addiction means that people feel anxiety when they go without certain foods, or go out of their way to get them.
Cahill said it’s not necessarily just that certain people just eat anything; the addiction can be specific to certain types of foods — fatty foods, or foods that are high in sugar, for example.
“We just know that everybody is not addicted to the same thing,” he said.
All of this is a very new area of research; the people at Memorial looking into this were the first ones to use the Yale diagnosis survey in this way.
Cahill said it’ll be a while before food addiction becomes part of how doctors and nutritionists treat obesity; they need to do more research first.