Food Addiction Across Demographics: How environmental context might increase distress

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What does it mean to be addicted to food—and is food addiction the same for everyone? According to a new study by the Yale School of Medicine and University of Minnesota Medical School, rates of food addiction—the compulsive consumption of foods high in sugar and fat, leading to symptoms of distress—differ across demographic and weight groups.

In the study, participants reported their views on healthcare and food consumption as well as their clinical, demographic, and body-mass index (BMI) information. Those who had food addiction symptoms such as distress or impairment as a result of their eating habits were placed into the food addicted category.

Statistical analyses revealed that females and people with obesity were more likely to report distress related to the food addiction symptoms after controlling for symptom frequency. “Women might experience more pressure related to food and weight, and therefore [are] more likely to experience symptoms of distress from eating,” lead researcher and Yale postdoctoral fellow Meagan Carr said. “People who are overweight and obese experience stigma and prejudice, so it’s also possible that they might have more reactions to food addiction.” 

Carr emphasized the need for a better understanding of food addiction. “The data show that it may be better to move beyond focusing on people’s individual choices around food, and instead think about environmental context and other contributors,” Carr said.