'Food addiction' may be fuelling obesity crisis with up to one in 200 people believed to be suffering from the condition

  • Experts compare the disorder to individuals who compulsively gamble or steal

By Daily Mail Reporter


Food addiction could be responsible for the rising number of people suffering from obesity and eating disorders, scientists believe.

They say as many as one in 200 people could be suffering from the condition and are investigating the possibility that in many cases over-eating is caused by behavioural addiction.

Changes in the way psychiatrists view addiction could in future see food abuse become a diagnosable condition.

Growing problem: Scientists believe around one in 200 people could be suffering from food addiction

Growing problem: Scientists believe around one in 200 people could be suffering from food addiction fuelling an obesity crisis

A small proportion of people with binge-eating disorders - maybe 0.5 per cent of the general population - fit most of the criteria for addiction, it is believed.

Many experts think they suffer from a similar problem as individuals who compulsively gamble or steal.


Currently such patterns of behaviour are categorised as 'impulse control disorders' rather than addictions.

But this is set to change with publication of the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM), which lays out diagnosis rules for psychiatrists.

Experts are now discussing whether compulsive eating can be classified as a behavioural addiction.

A £5 million EU research project called NeuroFAST has been set up to examine the evidence, bringing together scientists from seven European countries.

One of those involved, Professor Julian Mercer, from the University of Aberdeen, said: 'If we can reach a consensus on how over-eating should be classified, this could lead to major changes in clinical treatment and public policy surrounding obesity.

'It would help firstly to clarify if food addiction is a route to binge-eating or obesity. Recognition of different routes to overweight and obesity could lead to more targeted treatments for defined groups, giving individuals clinical help which is specific and pertinent to their situation.

Experts are now discussing whether compulsive eating can be classified as a behavioural addiction

Experts are now discussing whether compulsive eating can be classified as a behavioural addiction

'In future, over-eating could be recognised as the consequence of food addiction in a small group of individuals, and the treatment they are offered may have convergence with that which is offered to drug/alcohol abusers.'

Recognised signs of addiction include tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, persistent desire, an inability to stop despite physical and psychological consequences, risky behaviour, and devoting a lot of time to appeasing cravings.

Many of these are displayed by certain people who eat uncontrollably.

Dr Ozgur Albayrak, another NeuroFAST scientist from the University of Essen in Germany, said: 'Food addiction possibly does not refer to a majority of over eaters but only a small sub group with disordered eating behaviours. There may be a prevalence of half a per cent.'

The issue of food addiction was discussed at the British Science Festival, taking place at the University of Aberdeen.

Yesterday a workshop was held where people were asked about their views on the subject.

Prof Mercer said about half the audience believed they were food addicts, or claimed to know someone who was one.

'The public out there are getting lots of messages saying food is just as addictive as some substances of abuse, so it’s a confusing picture,' he said.

'It might make more sense for eating behaviours to be classified into a kind of behavioural addiction rather than a chemical addiction.

'Most likely where this would fit in would be at the extreme end of people with binge-eating disorder where there appears to be a spectrum of behaviours that do mimic some of the behaviours that would be used to classify other, chemical, addictions.'

Dr Albayrak stressed that addictive binge-eating had nothing to do with bulimia, an eating disorder caused by an obsessive desire to lose weight.

People with bulimia refuse food and then gave in to an uncontrollable urge to eat, after which they often make themselves sick.

In many cases, binge-eaters also had an alcohol problem, Dr Albayrak added.


The comments below have been moderated in advance.

We have a new illness, apparently, that used to be known as gluttony. Food addiction. And the most annoying thing about this is that the damned quacks who come up with this garbage will now start milking the NHS for all its worth by adding it to the plethora of bogus illnesses that they have already invented over the past 50 years for the same purpose.

Click to rate     Rating   1

junk food is highly addictive - so yes, it causes obesity. Also food allergies and intolerances (like to wheat and sugar for example) make people specifically overeat these foods and get fat. On top of that, you have the government telling us to eat less red meat and other filling natural foods and to watch our calorie intake which doesn't help. People end up with an all or nothing attitude - dieting on salads and chicken, then when they get too hungry, calling it a day and diving off into the opposite end with junk food. One CAN eat plenty of good natural food without getting fat. BUT yes, one has to leave behind processed junk foods. No amount of exercise in the gym is going to help unless that is addressed.

Click to rate     Rating   8

No, it's because primary school teachers dish out chocolates for every occasion!

Click to rate     Rating   8

There is this ground breaking cure for obesity called the gym.

Click to rate     Rating   4

I agree that prices need to be lowered for healthy foods, particularly in lunchtime food shops. I have not found that healthy foods are too expensive in supermarkets as veg in particular is very cheap, but certainly healthier choices when you are out and about are way more expensive. If I don't make my own lunch to take to work I either have to spend around £5 in Pret A Manger for something healthy, or have something unhealthy but cheap.

Click to rate     Rating   11

addiction? ha ha ha. lack of self control by fat people more like it...

Click to rate     Rating   5

Interestingly this article is printed just below one about Secretaries of the Thirties to Sixties, and some readers commented that there was no obesity in those days. One reason for this was the hard work it took for a woman to walk to the shops, buy fresh food at several different shops, go home to prepare it and finally cook it - and it might take two or three hours if dinner was to be a stew or slow-roast. People's diet was nourishing but too plain to be addictive. Then along came the supermarkets, with everything ready-prepared and extra tasty, and Indian and Chinese take-aways opened on every street. Result - everyone's taste buds were catered for and no effort or time required to prepare meals. It takes will-power to resist all this delicious nosh, and some people just don't have it - call it an addiction if you must.

Click to rate     Rating   16

You don't say! Wow, these researchers are clever people!

Click to rate     Rating   12

I'm doomed! I have many compulsions to eat every day!

Click to rate     Rating   4

Behavioural addiction? It used to be called greedy.

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