More science of food addiction

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It is very easy to get caught up in the excitement of being seen, especially by an entity with the broad reach of a national television network, but it helps me to get back, as quickly as possible, to the real issue, which is food addiction.

The core of my message, in "Fat Boy Thin Man" and on this blog, is that food addiction is real and that both for individuals and for all of us collectively, important changes will necessarily follow once we understand.

In my book, and frequently here, I make clear that I'm not a scientist or researcher, and that when "my" contentions about food addiction are recognized, it will have been the result of what scientists and researchers have done, to a far greater extent than what I have. I do have a role to play, and I'm doing my best to play it, but clearly, science is the bottom line.

Some of that science is what ABC reported on last night. It was also covered by one of my old employers, the Hartford Courant. For them it was a local story because the study was led by Ashley Gearhardt, a doctoral student at Yale. (She defends her thesis this month, and I'm guessing that national news coverage puts a nice little ribbon on her work. Hope so.)

Here's the meat of reporter William Weir's story:

The study included 48 women with an average age of 21 who ranged from lean to obese. They took a test developed at the Rudd Center to measure food addiction, based on an established test for measuring drug addiction. The test includes statements such as, "I find that when I start eating certain foods, I end up eating much more than I had planned," and respondents rate how closely the statements match their own experiences.
With functional magnetic resonant imaging (fMRI), a brain imaging procedure, the researchers examined brain activity when the subjects were shown, and then drank, a chocolate milkshake. The results were compared with the subjects' brain's response to the anticipation and consumption of a tasteless solution.
What they found was that the brains of subjects who scored higher on the food addiction scale exhibited neural activity similar to that seen in drug addicts, with greater activity in brain regions responsible for cravings and less activity in the regions that curb urges. The researchers also found that the brain activity indicative of addiction was found in both lean and obese subjects who scored high in the test for food addiction.
Gearhardt says the findings suggest that certain triggers, such as advertisements for food, have not just a psychological, but a physiological, effect on certain people.
"We found that the high food addiction group showed low inhibition: They have less control in their consumption, and that's something we've seen also in addicts," she said.

Very much so, this mirrors what I have experienced, and what I've been sharing: Substances affect people differently, and people who scoff at food addiction are ill-informed and/or narrow-minded. Or, in the case of the legions of food-industry lobbyists, financially motivated to spread untruths.

I don't expect this study alone to tip the balance, but it is another weight in the argument, and brings us closer to the changes we need to ease the burden on undiagnosed individuals and on our health-care system. It is going to happen.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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