Addicted to What?


For The Huffington Post, journalist Anna Almendrala wrote the following:

Food addiction research is still in its infancy, but its appeal is obvious. The model paints a comprehensive picture of the “toxic food environment” we live in today and is a compelling way to link the rising processed food industry with growing rates of obesity…

Why is it useful to link the processed food industry with obesity statistics? Because many critics of the nutrition landscape have insisted for a long time that Big Food purposely engineers irresistible qualities into its products, thus making them literally addictive.

Childhood Obesity News has looked extensively at the omnipresent “manipulated” grocery items that fill supermarket shelves. We talked about Prof. Ashley Gearhardt, teacher of psychology at the University of Michigan and creator of the Yale Food Addiction Scale. Academics and clinicians who use the Food Addiction Scale have come to believe that “an estimated five to 10 percent of the general population may have some degree of food addiction.”

Granted, that sounds pretty vague. On the other hand, society does not need scientists to be making unwarranted overly-specific claims. At any rate, to Dr. Gearhardt, it seems obvious that some kinds of foods act very much like addictors, while others, such as cruciferous vegetables, do not inspire such fervor. Unless they do.

On the other hand, here is a vignette from Dr. Pretlow:

I recall a post from a mother on our site lamenting that she had removed all junk food from her house, yet her obese daughter then binged on apples!

Almendrala asked:

Is food addiction real, and should food industries be held accountable for engineering hyper-palatable sugar-salt-fat bombs that override feelings of fullness? Or is it more accurate to describe overeating as an eating addiction — a disordered relationship to all foods that can and should be brought to heel by the individual?

Just as we need to know how much of obesity originates in heredity and how much in the environment, we need to know how much stems from uncontrollable factors and how much from personal responsibility. And how much from a particular substance or class of substances, and how much from the simple and overwhelming desire to eat a lot.

Then, of course, we also need to discover what causes that desire to take in many times the amount of nourishment actually needed by the body, and how to quash that desire. Amount addiction, says Dr. Pretlow, depends not on specific foods or hyperpalatable foods, but basically on whatever happens to be around, as long as there is plenty of it.

Perhaps not all obesity is attributable to what he calls “the very powerful addiction of excessive food amounts,” but to whatever degree it holds sway. People who use eating as a coping mechanism against stress and change find that cutting down their amounts is extremely difficult.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Food Addiction vs. Eating Addiction: Why A Single Word Makes All The Difference,”, 09/23/14
Photo credit: Charles Smith (smith_cl9) via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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