The Concept of Food Addiction: a Review of the Current Evidence
Purpose of Review
With the literature on food addiction expanding rapidly, we aim to provide an overview of what is known about this topic, including its assessment, prevalence, and associated behavioral, clinical, and neurobiological characteristics.
The literature presents compelling evidence for the validity of the concept of food addiction, revealing numerous substantive parallels between compulsive overeating and substance use disorders. Research published since the introduction of a formal measure of food addiction has examined neurobiological characteristics associated with food addiction, providing evidence of similarities between neural responses in individuals with food addiction and those with substance use disorders. Furthermore, food addiction has been associated with heightened depression, anxiety, and eating psychopathology. There is also evidence of poorer treatment outcomes in clinical populations, highlighting the importance of continued investigation of this condition.
The extent to which food addiction is equivalent to substance use disorders remains an open question; however, it is clear that the presence of food addiction has implications for physical and psychological health outcomes. A focus for future research should be identifying specific symptoms of food addiction that contribute to these poor outcomes and greater psychopathology, to inform the development of therapeutic interventions for food addiction.
KeywordsFood addiction Drug Binge eating Neurobiology YFAS Obesity
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
KN and IB have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose; JM is a principal in BEAM Diagnostics, Inc.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
This article does not contain any studies with human or animal studies performed by any of the authors.
- 1.Davis C. Compulsive overeating as an addictive behavior: overlap between food addiction and binge eating disorder. Curr Obes Rep. 2013;2(2):171–8.Google Scholar
- 6.Stoltz SG. Recovering from foodaholism. J Spec Gr Work. 1984;9(1):51–61.Google Scholar
- 7.Association AP, Association AP. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (revised 4th ed). Washington, DC Author. 2000.Google Scholar
- 8.Association AP. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub; 2013.Google Scholar
- 10.Brunault P, Ballon N, Gaillard P, Réveillère C, Courtois R. Validation of the French version of the Yale food addiction scale: an examination of its factor structure, reliability, and construct validity in a nonclinical sample. Can J Psychiatr. 2014;59(5):276–84.Google Scholar
- 20.Ouellette A-S, Rodrigue C, Lemieux S, Tchernof A, Biertho L, Bégin C. An examination of the mechanisms and personality traits underlying food addiction among individuals with severe obesity awaiting bariatric surgery. Eat Weight Disord Anorexia, Bulim Obes. 2017;22(4):633–40.Google Scholar
- 21.Benzerouk F, Gierski F, Ducluzeau P-H, Bourbao-Tournois C, Gaubil-Kaladjian I, Bertin É, et al. Food addiction, in obese patients seeking bariatric surgery, is associated with higher prevalence of current mood and anxiety disorders and past mood disorders. Psychiatry Res. 2018;267:473–9.PubMedGoogle Scholar
- 31.Pedram P, Wadden D, Amini P, Gulliver W, Randell E, Cahill F, et al. Food addiction: its prevalence and significant association with obesity in the general population. PLoS One. 2013;8(9):1–6.Google Scholar
- 34.Bégin C, St-Louis ME, Turmel S, Tousignant B, Marion L-P, Ferland F, et al. Does food addiction distinguish a specific subgroup of overweight/obese overeating women. Health (Irvine Calif). 2012;4(12A):1492–9.Google Scholar
- 50.Duarte RBM, Patrono E, Borges AC, César AAS, Tomaz C, Ventura R, et al. Consumption of a highly palatable food induces a lasting place-conditioning memory in marmoset monkeys. Behav Process. 2014;107:163–6.Google Scholar
- 57.Volkow N, Wang GJ, Fowler JS, Tomasi D, Baler R. Food and drug reward: overlapping circuits in human obesity and addiction. In: Carter C, Dalley J. (eds) Brain Imaging Behav Neurosci. Springer; 2011;1–24.Google Scholar
- 58.Sharma S, Fernandes MF, Fulton S. Adaptations in brain reward circuitry underlie palatable food cravings and anxiety induced by high-fat diet withdrawal. Int J Obes. 2013;37(9):1183–91.Google Scholar
- 73.McKenna RA, Rollo ME, Skinner JA, Burrows TL. Food addiction support: website content analysis. JMIR Cardio. 2018;2(1):e10.Google Scholar
- 85.Amlung M, Petker T, Jackson J, Balodis I, MacKillop J. Steep discounting of delayed monetary and food rewards in obesity: a meta-analysis. Psychol Med. 2016;46(11):2423–34.Google Scholar
- 96.Killgore WDS, Weber M, Schwab ZJ, Kipman M, DelDonno SR, Webb CA, et al. Cortico-limbic responsiveness to high-calorie food images predicts weight status among women. Int J Obes. 2013;37(11):1435–42.Google Scholar
- 103.Ewing SWF, Claus ED, Hudson KA, Filbey FM, Jimenez EY, Lisdahl KM, et al. Overweight adolescents’ brain response to sweetened beverages mirrors addiction pathways. Brain Imaging Behav. 2017;11(4):925–35.Google Scholar
- 113.Clark L, Boileau I, Zack M. Neuroimaging of reward mechanisms in gambling disorder: an integrative review. Mol Psychiatry. Nature Publishing Group. 2018;1.Google Scholar
- 119.Bostwick JM, Bucci JA. Internet sex addiction treated with naltrexone. In: Mayo Clinic proceedings. Elsevier; 2008. pp 226–30.Google Scholar