The notion may not be too far-fetched to begin with, but scientists now think that people with impulsive personalities may be more likely to struggle with addiction — whether to drugs, alcohol, or even food.
Research out of the University of Georgia and published in Appetite found that people who were impulsive were more likely to develop compulsive eating patterns, and thus also to be obese. The study authors hope that shining light on the relationship between impulsivity and food addiction may equip doctors with better ways to handle patients struggling with obesity, as well as to better understand the psychological issues behind over-eating.
“The notion of food addiction is a very new one, and one that has generated a lot of interest,” James MacKillop, the study’s principal investigator and associate professor of psychology in UGA’s Frankling College of Arts and Sciences, said in a press release. “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.”
In the study, the researchers used the Yale Food Addiction Scale and the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale to measure the participants’ levels of food addiction and impulsivity. They then compared these results to the participants’ body mass index (BMI) in an attempt to determine obesity. “Our study shows that impulsive behavior was not necessarily associated with obesity, but impulsive behaviors can lead to food addiction,” MacKillop said in the press release.
Another study published this week shed light on food addiction among women, and found that middle-aged women were the most likely to be addicted to eating. About 8 percent of females between the ages of 45 and 62 were food addicts, the study stated. They were measured by the Yale Food Addiction Scale, which requires participants to answer statements like, “I find myself continuing to consume certain foods even though I am no longer hungry.” What isn't surprising is the type of food such "addicts" gravitated towards — “hyper-palatable” munchies that are fatty and full of sugar and salt. These foods were more likely to trigger the transmission of dopamine, which is a “feel good” chemical also linked to drug addiction.
MacKillop and his team from the University of Georgia hope their study will help people struggling with obesity and food addiction better cope with their habits and to make changes. “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,” MacKillop said in the press release. “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 drug addiction.”