Researchers Find Link Between Food Addiction and Impulsive Personalities

By Paul Gaita 01/29/14

According to new research, people who exhibit impulsive personalities may develop an addiction to food. And that could lead to treatment for those suffering from obesity.

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In a study published in the February 2014 edition of  Appetite, researchers from the University of Georgia found a connection between food addiction and impulsive personalities. Researchers applied two scales—the Yale Food Addiction Scale and the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale—to a group of 233 participants. The results showed that individuals who reported acting rashly under the duress of strong positive or negative emotions also exhibited symptoms of addictive eating.

In addition, the study’s principal investigator, James MacKillop, Ph.D., noted that those “who reported more food addiction symptoms indicated that they often did things without thinking, and that they had difficulty following through with boring and/or challenging tasks.” These results draw a marked parallel to impulsive behavior and abuse of drugs and alcohol. “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,” noted MacKillop. “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.”

The study’s research also revealed that participants who exhibited impulse behavior in regard to food also showed a higher body mass index, which is used to determine obesity. MacKillop was quick to note that while “impulsive behavior was not necessarily associated with obesity,” the research allowed that it was “possible to think about impulsivity, food addiction and obesity using some of the same techniques” as studies related to alcohol, drug or nicotine addictions. In doing so, MacKillop and his fellow researchers are hopeful that their findings will aid the medical and psychiatric community to develop treatment for those suffering from obesity along the lines of current drug and alcohol plans.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.