Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Study Shows Addictive Tendencies Tied To Obesity

Researchers at Washington University have found a link between overeating and family history of alcoholism. Does this mean we can be addicted to food?

beer and cocktail

Photo: VancityAllie (flickr)

Adults, especially women, were 30-40% more likely to be obese with a family history of alcoholism than without.

A recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found a link between obesity and alcoholism. The study used data from surveys taken first in 1991-92, then a decade later in the early 2000′s.

While the earlier survey found no connection between a family history of alcoholism and obesity, the data from 2001-02 painted a different picture. Adults, especially women, were 30-40% more likely to be obese with a family history of alcoholism than without.

The new data suggest that for some people, food can be just as addictive as alcohol. Those with a genetic predisposition to addiction are more vulnerable to alcoholism, but they may also be more likely to become addicted to eating.

Surveys taken in the 1990s did not show the same trends, but researchers on the study explained that this could be because the availability of certain foods has changed. Dr. Richard A. Grucza, the lead author on the paper and member of the Washington University psychiatry faculty, explained the change over time as due to the changing food environment. Certain foods, especially those high in sugar, salt and fat, have a “tendency to appeal to the sorts of reward systems, which are the parts of the brain implicated in addiction.”

Grucza noted that the alcoholism-obesity link could be explained in other ways, and said that addiction is both “a behavior and a choice. It’s just that some people are more vulnerable to the effect of that choice than others.”

More: Can You Be Addicted to Foods? (New York Times “Well” blog )

Sarah Kaiser

Sarah Kaiser is a student-turned-townie living in Bloomington, Indiana. A social media specialist at Solution Tree, she spends her days tweeting and her nights foraging at the local summer market for new tastes and flavors. And occasionally rocking out on the ukulele.

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