The plausibility of sugar addiction and its role in obesity and eating disorders

Clin Nutr. 2010 Jun;29(3):288-303. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2009.12.001. Epub 2009 Dec 28.


Background & aims: To consider the hypothesis that addiction to food, or more specifically sucrose, plays a role in obesity and eating disorders.

Methods: By considering the relevant literature a series of predictions were examined, derived from the hypothesis that addiction to sucrose consumption can develop. Fasting should increase food cravings, predominantly for sweet items; cravings should occur after an overnight fast; the obese should find sweetness particularly attractive; a high-sugar consumption should predispose to obesity. More specifically predictions based on the hypothesis that addiction to sugar is central to bingeing disorders were developed. Dieting should predate the development of bingeing; dietary style rather than psychological, social and economic factors should be predispose to eating disorders; sweet items should be preferentially consumed while bingeing; opioid antagonists should cause withdrawal symptoms; bingeing should develop at a younger age when there is a greater preference for sweetness.

Results: The above predications have in common that on no occasion was the behaviour predicted by an animal model of sucrose addiction supported by human studies.

Conclusion: There is no support from the human literature for the hypothesis that sucrose may be physically addictive or that addiction to sugar plays a role in eating disorders.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Dietary Sucrose / toxicity*
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / physiopathology
  • Food Preferences
  • Humans
  • Narcotic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Obesity / chemically induced*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Reward
  • Substance-Related Disorders / drug therapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology*


  • Dietary Sucrose
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Dopamine