Shining a Light on Food Addiction

A new book by Mika Brzezinski and a new study have put food addiction in the spotlight this week. Researchers from the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health published a study in Obesity this week, finding a 90% increase in the risk of food addiction for women who experienced physical or sexual abuse as children or adolescents.

Susan Mason and colleagues analyzed data from 57,321 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II. In the sample, 8% reported sever physical abuse in childhood and 5.3% reported severe sexual abuse. Food addiction defined as ≥ 3 clinically significan symptoms on a modified version of the Yale Food Addiction Scale was found in 8% of participants, and those participants had BMI measures that were six points higher than women without food addiction. Said the authors:

The epidemic prevalence of obesity and its toll on health call for focused efforts to understand widespread obesity risk factors that may be modified to improve public health. A better understanding of the mechanisms by which child abuse, experienced by over a third of girls, influences weight gain is likely to be important in addressing obesity risk in women. Our study suggests that uncontrolled eating in response to distress may be one important element of this pathway. Future work should further articulate the pathways from abuse to weight gain, to identify critical periods of vulnerability and targets for intervention that can inform prevention and treatment efforts.

Brezinski’s book is Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction–and My Own, which occupies a top Amazon ranking among health and fitness books. It’s drawing attention to to a view that “healthy is better than skinny.” She’s used her perch at MSNBC this week to offer up encouragement for a healthier approach to weight and body image, praising New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for seeking bariatric surgery and hosting wide ranging discussions on health and weight. She has talked about working “at overcoming my own obsession with food, gain 10 pounds, and accept the new me. My goal was a healthy 135-pound woman who ate a reasonable meal when she was hungry, instead of someone who freaked out when the scale tipped 120 pounds, fought against the urge to eat at every turn, and often felt drained by all that effort.”

Not everyone will view weight and health advice from a slim media personality favorably, she acknowledges. “I am acutely aware of the eye-rolling derision with which many may view my role in this book. I stipulate up front that a good degree of my success in life was gained through my appearance. I did not earn my genetic makeup, any more than I chose the family I was born into.”

But at least the conversation is about health over appearance.

Click here to read the study in Obesity and click here to read more about the book in the Huffington Post.

Ice Cream Sundae image © Zechariah Judy / Wikimedia

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