Category: Addictive Behaviors
Introduction: The transdiagnostic model of addiction proposes that a range of hedonic substances and behaviors are capable of altering reward-related circuitry in susceptible individuals, thereby triggering an addictive-like response characterized by a standard set of behavioral, cognitive, and physiological symptoms. One of the most controversial explanations for compulsive overeating implicates an addictive-like mechanism. This study sought to identify the “addictive agent” associated with problematic eating as a critical next step in evaluating the validity of the food addiction model.
Method: 390 U.S.-born undergraduate students (50.5% female) reported demographics and weight status, and completed several well-validated instruments related to problematic eating, including the Binge Eating Scale (BES), the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), and the Food Craving Inventory (FCI). Correlations and linear regression analyses were performed. Variables were standardized prior to the regression analyses.
Results: Scores on the BES were significantly and positively correlated with reported frequency of cravings for “sweets” (r = .29, p < .001) and “fast food fats” (r = .13, p = .02). In multiple linear regression analyses, FCI craving “frequency” scores accounted for 12% of the variance in reported binge eating frequency [F (5, 306) = 8.60, p =< .001, R2 = .12), with frequency of cravings for “sweets” emerging as the sole significant predictor (β = .31, SE = .07, p < .001, 95% C.I.: .18, .46). Scores on the YFAS were significantly and positively correlated with reported frequency of cravings for “high fats” (r = .16, p = .004), “sweets” (r = .35, p < .001), “carbohydrates/starches” (r = .23, p < .001) and “fast food fats” (r = .30, p < .001). In multiple linear regression analysis, FCI craving “frequency” scores accounted for 14% of the variance in reported binge eating frequency [F (5, 283) = 9.48, p =< .001, R2 = .14), with frequency of cravings for “sweets (β = .27, SE = .07, p < .001, 95% C.I.: .13, .41) and “fast food fats” emerging as significant predictors (β = .17, SE = .07, p = .02, 95% C.I.: .03, .32).
Conclusion: Cravings for sugar and highly processed (e.g., fast food) fats were predictive of problematic eating, as indicated by higher scores on binge eating and food addiction scales. Addictive substances are processed in such a way that increases the potency of the addictive agent and their rate of absorption. Findings are consistent with the food addiction model, which posits that hyperpalatable foods have addictive potential because they contain an inordinate concentration of highly rewarding food attributes. While the rewarding effect of food is an important homeostatic mechanism, maintaining motivation to seek out food, for some, this mechanism may become impaired after chronic consumption of energy-dense foods.
University at Albany, State University of New York
Albany, New York