One in eight Americans over 50 show signs of food addiction
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Posted: 31 January 2023 | Grace Galler | No comments yet
A study carried out by the University of Michigan has claimed that one in eight Americans between 50 and 80 show signs of an addiction to food and beverages. Using data from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, the study authors have said that the percentage of those addicted to a food or beverage is […]
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A study carried out by the University of Michigan has claimed that one in eight Americans between 50 and 80 show signs of an addiction to food and beverages.
Using data from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, the study authors have said that the percentage of those addicted to a food or beverage is “much higher” among women, specifically women in their fifties and early sixties.
The poll team and U-M Psychologist Ashley Gearhardt, PhD, used a set of 13 questions to measure whether, and how often, older adults experienced the core indicators of addiction in their relationship with highly processed foods such as sweets, salty snacks, sugary drinks and fast food.
The addiction indicators being analysed included intense cravings, an inability to cut down on intake, and signs of withdrawal.
Taking the findings into consideration, Gearhardt suggested that the same set of standard questions should become part of screening at doctors’ offices in order to help identify older adults with addictive eating habits who could benefit from referrals to nutrition counselling or programs that help people address addictive eating or get affordable access to healthier foods.
Gearhardt, an Associate Professor in the U-M Department of Psychology and member of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI), co-developed the standardised questionnaire used in the poll called the Yale Food Addiction Scale.
“The word addiction may seem strong when it comes to food, but research has shown that our brains respond as strongly to highly processed foods, especially those highest in sugar, simple starches, and fat, as they do to tobacco, alcohol and other addictive substances,” explained Gearhardt.
“Just as with smoking or drinking, we need to identify and reach out to those who have entered unhealthy patterns of use and support them in developing a healthier relationship with food.”
To meet the criteria for an addiction to highly processed food on the scale used in the poll, older adults had to report experiencing at least two of 11 symptoms of addiction in their intake of highly processed food, as well as report significant eating-related distress or life problems multiple times a week.
The study authors have said that this criteria is that same as that used to diagnose addiction-related problems with alcohol, tobacco and other addictive substances.
Looking at the results of the study, 17 percent of adults aged 50 to 64 and 8 percent of adults aged 65-80 were classified as having an addiction to food. This included 22 percent of women aged 50 to 64 and 18 percent of women aged 50 to 80.
What’s more, the findings of the study showed that 17 percent of men reported themselves as being overweight, while one percent of men indicated that they are around the right weight.
Meanwhile, 34 percent of women reported themselves as being overweight, compared with four percent who indicated that they’re around the right weight.
“Intense cravings” were the most commonly reported symptom of an addiction to highly processed foods in older adults., with 24 percent claiming that they had a strong urge to each highly processed foods at least once a week, so much so that they “couldn’t think of anything else”.
Additionally, 19 percent said that they had tried and failed to cut down on, or stop eating, these kinds of foods at least two to three times a week. A further 12 percent said that their eating behaviour caused them a lot of distress two to three times a week or more.
“Clinicians need a better understanding of how food addiction and problematic eating intertwines with their patients’ physical and mental health, including chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer,” says Jeffrey Kullgren, the Poll Director and an associate professor of internal medicine at Michigan Medicine and physician and researcher at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.
“We need to understand that cravings and behaviours around food are rooted in brain chemistry and heredity, and that some people may need additional help just as they would to quit smoking or drinking,” concluded Kullgren.
Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI), Michigan Medicine, National Poll on Healthy Aging, University of Michigan, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System