Food Addiction May Play Key Role in Obesity
Science Daily reports that in a commentary appearing in the Dec. 21, 2009, issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), Dr. Valerie Taylor, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster and director of the Bariatric Surgery Psychiatry Program at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, and her co-authors argue that food addiction in some individuals may be a reality and needs to be considered in the management of weight problems.
"The concept of addiction is complex, and the delineation of its defining characteristics has fostered considerable debate," Taylor and her co-authors write. "Despite a lack of consensus, researchers nevertheless agree that the process involves a compulsive pattern of use, even in the face of negative health and social consequences."
Food addiction can be compared to other addictive behaviors, as both food and drugs can cause tolerance, or an increase in the amount required to achieve intoxication or satiety. Withdrawal symptoms such as mood changes can occur after discontinuing drugs or during dieting. As well, after gastric surgery for obesity, a subset of patients exhibit other addictive behaviors.
"The concept of addiction does not negate the role of free will and personal choice," Taylor and co-authors write. "It may, however, provide insight into why some individuals with obesity continue to struggle."
The authors conclude that therapies traditionally applied to the area of addiction may be helpful in managing weight problems, which are often viewed through the same lens.
"The current 'blame' mentality that is often applied to individuals with obesity needs to be re-examined," the authors write. "Although medicine may not yet accept compulsive overeating as an addiction, we cannot ignore evidence highlighting the role played by biologic vulnerability and environmental triggers."