'Food addiction' may be to blame for obesity

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Some people may be addicted to food and this could be one of the reasons behind the rising number of individuals suffering from eating disorders and obesity, scientists say.

Food is not currently included in the official diagnostic manual of addictive substances used by psychiatrists, but scientists believe that excessive over-eating shares many of the psychological characteristics associated with certain kinds of addictive behaviour, such as gambling and compulsive stealing.

A £5m project is underway to determine whether there is enough scientific evidence to categorise over-eating as a potentially addictive behaviour, which could mean that certain foods are classed as addictive – alongside alcohol and drugs, Professor Julian Mercer, of Aberdeen University, said.

"How and why food could be addictive is being explored in the research that makes up the project to ascertain whether this is one of the reasons to explain why people eat too much and develop obesity," Professor Mercer said.

"This research comes at a time when international experts are considering whether behavioural addictions should be recognised at a clinical level. This categorisation may allow food addiction to be classified in similar terms to drug and alcohol addiction in the future."

Over the next five years, the NeuroFast project will bring together experts from across Europe to determine whether over-eating is addictive and if so whether it should be treated similarly to other addictive behaviour.

"This could lead to major changes in clinical treatment and public policy surrounding obesity," he said.

The most likely people to suffer food addiction are the estimated one in 200 of us who develop severe eating disorders associated with obesity. Many over-eat compulsively.