Since the late 50s, research has shown that certain types of food in our diet have the potential to be addictive. These include products with high sugar and salt content, particularly ready-made meals, crisps and confectioneries.
Known as hyper-palatable foods, these showed results in lab rats that are similar to the effects of drugs. More evidence has shown that those with binge eating disorders like bulimia nervosa also show these drug like effects in the food-seeking parts of their neural pathways.
Food addiction is probably more associated with Western lifestyles, with worryingly high levels of obesity noted in many developed countries such as the USA and Europe. But it is a problem that has a global impact, effecting people’s wellbeing and health over the long term and putting huge pressure on health services. The research on the impact of addictive eating is smaller than for abuse problems such as drugs and alcohol but there is growing concern on the impact of ‘bad’ food and eating habits on the population as a whole.
According to Frontiers in Psychiatry, the most common symptoms of a food addiction include:
According to Addiction Hope:
According to the Obesity and Food Addiction Summit, many health care professionals who deal with children believe that weight problems are becoming more prevalent along with the health damage that is caused by normal nutritional needs not being met. A worrying trend for children is that, of the 40,000 aimed at young people each year, 72% of adverts are for sugary treats, cereals and fast food.
The World Health Organisation sees obesity as a growing problem and estimates that 2.3 billion people have a problem with weight and 700 million of these could be considered obese. The spread of obesity around the world could be a product of the globalisation of food markets but is certainly in part due to the high availability of foods high in saturated fats and sugars and our more sedentary lifestyles.
While less time is given to food addictions than many other forms of abuse such as drug taking and high consumption of alcohol, more research is now being undertaken into the effects on our brains of what we eat. Junk food high in saturated fat and salts fed to rats has caused increases in binge eating compared to rats that were fed a normal diet. Research has shown many similarities between overeating and other forms of addiction.