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Are Women Wired to Binge Eat?

A new study on rats is the first to suggest that biology may play a role in eating disorders.

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By Victoria Kim

05/02/13

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A new study on lab rats finds that female rats are more likely to binge eat than males, suggesting that females may be biologically predisposed to eating disorders. The Michigan State University study is the first to suggest that biology is a factor in binge eating behavior, which "is one of the core symptoms of most eating disorders" including bulimia nervosa. Women and girls are four to 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder, although the condition is often overlooked and misdiagnosed in men. "Most theories of why eating disorders are so much more prevalent in females than males focus on the increased cultural and psychological pressure that girls and women face," says Kelly Klump, lead author of the experiment. "But this study suggests that biological factors likely contribute as well, since female rats do not experience the psychosocial pressures that humans do, such as pressures to be thin." In the study, researchers periodically replaced the rodents' food pellets with vanilla frosting, and found that females' were up to six times more prone to binge eating than the males. They are now investigating whether female brains are more sensitive and/or responsive to rewarding stimuli such as foods that are high in fat or sugar, and the chemicals that trigger reward behavior. Says Klump: "This research suggests there is probably a biological difference between males and females that we need to explore to understand risk factors and mechanisms."

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