Over 8% of middle-aged women may be food addicts, a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports.
About 134,000 women were included in the research. The results showed that 8.4% of women ages 45 to 64 and 2.7% of older women met the criteria for food addiction, as defined by the Yale Food Addiction Scale. The scale, which was first developed in 2009, has been validated by multiple trials. It includes questions like “My behavior with respect to food and eating causes significant distress” and “I eat to the point where I feel physically ill.”
Women who qualified as food addicts were more likely to be unmarried, obese and former smokers. Researchers suggested that former smokers may have transitioned addictive habits from smoking to eating. Not all women who met criteria for food addiction were overweight – some were underweight or normal-weight. Women in the South and the Midwest were more likely to have an addictive relationship with food compared to women in the East, for unclear reasons.
Women who met criteria for food addiction tended to gravitate toward “hyper-palatable” processed foods high in fat, sugar and salt – foods that tend to boost levels of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain.
Though the concept of food addiction has been controversial, many believe the biological process of food addiction may closely mirror addiction to other substances.