People may joke about their "addiction" to chocolate or potato chips, but for people struggling with obesity, it's no laughing matter. In fact, efforts in the past several years to link obesity with a physical addiction to food have garnered a great deal of attention. One of the most recent studies comes from Yale University.
Led by Ashley Gearhardt, a Yale student, and Kelly Brownell, Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University, the study examined 48 healthy women for signs of food addiction. The research showed that a woman's brain activity is affected by food similar to the way an addict's brain responds to the use of drugs. The study is another stepping stone in proving that obesity can be the result of a food addiction—not a lack of self-control—but its results still proved surprising.
The research team used functional MRI to monitor brain activity throughout the study. The women were divided into two groups: one was asked to look at the ingredients of a chocolate shake and sample the finished product, while the others looked and sampled a tasteless, no-calorie solution. The women in the study that showed signs of food addiction displayed very high brain activity when shown pictures of the chocolate milkshake, compared to the other group that had very low brain activity when shown pictures of a tasteless shake. Similar to a drug addiction, once the women tasted the shake, their activity decreased back to normal, but caused them to crave more chocolate.
Gearhardt created a 25-point questionnaire to assess food addiction for the study, the Yale Food Addiction Scale, similar to one used to diagnose a drug addiction. After using the scale, Gearhardt found that there were some overweight women that did not display any food addiction symptoms, but some average weight women did; showing food addictions were not correlated to an increase in weight. Much to her surprise, the study showed the relationship between food addiction and weight gain is a bit complicated and yet to be explained.
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