True Believers in Food Addiction

The popular notion that obesity is caused by some sort of food addiction has a surprising number of true believers. Scientists can’t keep up with public enthusiasm for the concept. Though close to 75% of the public believes that food addiction causes obesity, scientists are having a hard time coming up with a definition of food addiction that holds up to objective scrutiny. No matter. Many people — perhaps as many as half the population — believe themselves to be addicted to some foods.

So what’s the harm in thinking of yourself as a food addict? Jenny DePierre, Rebecca Puhl, and Joerg Luedicke found in 2013 that labeling yourself as a food addict has potential to promote the stigma of obesity. On the plus side, food addicts are viewed less harshly than drug addicts.

And then there’s the possibility that thinking of oneself as addicted to food might help some people find their way to healthier eating behaviors. Helen Ruddock and colleagues examined this possibility with two studies published in Obesity. They found that a totally bogus suggestion that people might have food addiction tendencies had the effect of leading them to be more careful about what they eat.

Ruddock et al only measured the acute effect of this food addiction finger wagging. Perhaps the effect will fade in longer-term studies. What’s unlikely to fade is the righteous fervor of true believers in food addiction. Every crusade needs an enemy to rally against. Addictive, highly processed foods are serving that purpose quite well.

The science of addiction is an annoying afterthought.

Click here to read the study by Ruddock et al.

Belief, photograph © Fu Ke / flickr

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May 22, 2016

2 Responses to “True Believers in Food Addiction”

  1. May 22, 2016 at 7:06 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Thanks, Ted–echoes and shadows of alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.

    I read this piece in the Atlantic yesterday on free will, and while it didn’t delve too much in to these issues, it sure seems germane.

    Have a good weekend and please take a picture of the self-driving Uber in Pittsburgh if you see it!


    • May 22, 2016 at 7:18 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Joe. Good reference!