Impulsive personality linked to food addiction

January 24, 2014 by James Hataway

The same kinds of impulsive behavior that lead some people to abuse alcohol and other drugs may also be an important contributor to an unhealthy relationship with food, according to new research from the University of Georgia.

In a paper published recently in the journal Appetite, researchers found that people with impulsive personalities were more likely to report higher levels of —a compulsive pattern of eating that is similar to drug addiction—and this in turn was associated with .

"The notion of food addiction is a very new one, and one that has generated a lot of interest," said James MacKillop, the study's principal investigator and associate professor of psychology in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "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."

More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, putting them at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars, and obese people pay an average of $1,429 more in medical expenses than those of normal weight.

MacKillop and doctoral students Cara Murphy and Monika Stojek hope that their research will ultimately help physicians and other experts plan treatments and interventions for who have developed an addiction to food, paving the way for a healthier lifestyle.

The study used two different scales, the Yale Food Addiction Scale and the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale, to determine levels of food addiction and impulsivity among the 233 participants. Researchers then compared these results with each participant's body mass index, which is used to determine obesity.

"Our study shows that was not necessarily associated with obesity, but impulsive behaviors can lead to food addiction," MacKillop said.

That is, just because someone exhibits impulsive behavior does not mean they will become obese, but an increase in certain impulsive behaviors is linked to food addiction, which appeared to be the driving force behind higher BMI in study participants.

These results are among the first forays into the study of addictive eating habits and how they contribute to obesity. Working with a grant from UGA's Obesity Initiative, MacKillop's team now plans to expand their research by analyzing the brain activity of different individuals as they make decisions about food.

The contemporary food industry has created a wide array of eating options, and foods that are high in fat, sodium, sugar and other flavorful additives and appear to produce cravings much like illicit drugs, MacKillop said. Now they will work to see how those intense cravings might play a role in the development of obesity.

"Modern neuroscience has helped us understand how substances like drugs and alcohol co-opt areas of the brain that evolved to release dopamine and create a sense of happiness or satisfaction," he said. "And now we realize that certain types of food also hijack these brain circuits and lay the foundation for compulsive eating habits that are similar to ."

Explore further: Evidence for 'food addiction' in humans

Related Stories

Evidence for 'food addiction' in humans

July 12, 2011

Research to be presented at the upcoming annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), the foremost society for research into all aspects of eating and drinking behavior, suggests that people can ...

Are 'food addicts' stigmatized?

February 6, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—In the first studies to examine what the public thinks about people with an addiction to food, researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale found that while this addiction is less vulnerable ...

Childhood abuse linked with food addiction in adult women

May 29, 2013

Women who experienced severe physical or sexual abuse during childhood are much more likely to have a food addiction as adults than women who did not experience such abuse, according to a new study published in the journal ...

Study links 'food addiction' to obesity

September 30, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—University of Queensland researchers have found most Australians and Americans believe food is addictive and comparable to drug addiction.

Recommended for you

Young adults found displaying symptoms of net addiction

October 17, 2014

In 2012, Allen Frances, MD, professor emeritus and former chair of the department of psychiatry at Duke University, cautioned that "Internet Addiction" could be the next new fad diagnosis, complete with "an exuberant trumpeting ...

Can 'love hormone' oxytocin protect against addiction?

March 19, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers at the University of Adelaide say addictive behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse could be associated with poor development of the so-called "love hormone" system in our bodies during early ...

Nicotine vaccine prevents nicotine from reaching the brain

May 2, 2012

If smoking a cigarette no longer delivers pleasure, will smokers quit? It's the idea behind a nicotine vaccine being created by MIT and Harvard researchers, in which an injection of synthetic nanoparticles prompts the immune ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.