Can obesity be viewed as a form of food addiction?



It’s an interesting conversation to participate and I’m amazed by the different point of views that’s out there.  We all know currently obesity is a global crisis as its rising at an alarming rate.    Excess body weight is the sixth most important risk factor contributing to the overall burden of disease worldwide  – Haslam DW, James WP., (2005).

In today’s obesogenic era, scientists and researchers are trying to find different theories and causes of obesity, so that we humans can deal with this epidemic efficiently – Boone-Heinonen J, Gordon-Larsen P. (2012).  One of the areas of focus for scientists is food as an addiction, over the period this has become a controversial issue as some scientists agree and some don’t agree with food as an addiction.  

“Food addiction” has shown to be connected with our brain’s reward system (dopamine release), and because of this reward system, we humans are pulled to eating the excessing amount of palatable food, much more than what is required for individual’s survival.  These pattern of eating may lead to a negative consequence on human health – Olsen CM ( 2011), B.T. Saunders, T.E. Robinson (1955-75).   Most of the brain’s reward system research is based on studies conducted on animals, and we need more scientific evidence in the context of humans – Gearhardt, A. N., White, M. A., & Potenza, M. N. – (2011).

As per DSM5 (APA, 2013), addiction is categorised as substance-related and addictive disorders.  If we have to label a particular food as “addictive”, it needs to have ingredients that lead to addiction.   Foods that are high in fat and sugar has been to be more rewarding than high in fibre food like vegetables – Avena, N. M., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. G. (2009).  If we start labelling high sugar and fat food as addictive, it will lead to few questions like,  what combination of sugar,  & fat is high, which one do we categorise as addictive and which one we don’t.  Also, this may not apply to a person who eats high fat and high sugar food from the perspective of meeting his daily caloric need as compared to someone eating it out of compulsion or BE (binge eating).  Many individuals may eat food that is high in sugar and fat occasionally, so these individuals cannot be classified to have a BED (Binge Eating Disorder).

Finally, in my view, it’s too early to conclude if obesity can be viewed as a form of food addiction or not.   Researchers are working hard to create a relationship, but there is a lot more to explore before any link between obesity and food addiction is established.   


Avena, N. M., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. G. (2009). Sugar and Fat Bingeing Have Notable Differences in Addictive-like Behavior. The Journal of Nutrition, 139(3), 623–628.

Boone-Heinonen J, Gordon-Larsen P. Obesogenic Environments in Youth: Concepts and Methods from a Longitudinal National Sample. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2012;42(5):e37-e46. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2012.02.005.

B.T. Saunders, T.E. Robinson

Gearhardt, A. N., White, M. A., & Potenza, M. N. (2011). Binge Eating Disorder and Food Addiction. Current Drug Abuse Reviews, 4(3), 201–207.

Haslam DW, James WP. Obesity. Lancet 2005;366:1197-1209

Individual variation in resisting temptation: implications for addiction

Olsen CM. Natural Rewards, Neuroplasticity, and Non-Drug Addictions. Neuropharmacology. 2011;61(7):1109-1122. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.03.010.

Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev., 37 (2013), pp. 1955-1975

Author –  Rishi Modi (Msc Obesity Care & Management – Student)

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