PhotoHumans need to eat to stay alive, but it turns out we don't have to eat all that much. Most people can do quite nicely on 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day.

But most people in North America tend to consume a lot more than that, which may be why there's an “obesity epidemic.” Among those who are overweight or obese, some may actually be addicted to food, say Canadian researchers presenting their findings at the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior meeting in Clearwater, Fla.

Their research suggests that people can become dependent on good-tasting foods and engage in a compulsive pattern of consumption, similar to the behaviors of drug addicts and alcoholics.

Using a questionnaire originally developed by researchers at Yale University, a group of obese men and women were assessed according to the seven symptoms recommended by the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose substance dependence. The researchers simply replaced the word “drugs” with “food.”

Binge-eating disorder

Based on their responses, individuals were classified as food addicts or non-addicts. While food addicts did not differ from non-addicts in their age or body weight, they displayed an increased prevalence of binge-eating disorder and depression, and more symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

They also were characterized by more impulsive personality traits, were more sensitive or responsive to the pleasurable properties of palatable foods, and were more likely to self-soothe with food. 

“These results strongly reinforce the view that food addiction is an identifiable condition with clinical symptoms, and is characterized by a psycho-behavioral profile that is similar to conventional drug-abuse disorders,” the researchers wrote. “The results also deliver much needed human support for the growing evidence of sugar and fat addiction in experimental animal research.”