New research from the University of Georgia (UGA), published in the journal Appetite
, reveals that the same kinds of impulsive behavior that leads some individuals to abuse alcohol and drugs may also contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food.
The research team found that people with impulsive personalities were more likely to report higher levels of food addiction, which can lead to obesity. Food addiction is a compulsive pattern of eating that is similar to drug addiction.
"The notion of food addiction is a very new one, and one that has generated a lot of interest," James MacKillop
, associate professor of psychology at the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, told UGA's James Hataway. "My lab generally studies alcohol, nicotine and other forms of drug addiction, but we think it's possible to think about impulsivity, food addiction and obesity using some of the same techniques."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of American adults are obese. This puts them at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Researchers estimated the annual medical cost of obesity to be $147 billion in 2008, while obese individuals pay, on average, $1,429 more in medical expenses than those of normal weight.
MacKillop collaborated with doctoral students Cara Murphy and Monika Stojek on this study. The team hopes that their research will ultimately help physicians and other experts plan treatments and interventions for obese people who have developed an addiction to food, paving the way for a healthier lifestyle.