The Neurobiology of "Food Addiction" and Its Implications for Obesity Treatment and Policy

Annu Rev Nutr. 2016 Jul 17;36:105-28. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-071715-050909. Epub 2016 Jun 1.

Abstract

There is a growing view that certain foods, particularly those high in refined sugars and fats, are addictive and that some forms of obesity can usefully be treated as a food addiction. This perspective is supported by a growing body of neuroscience research demonstrating that the chronic consumption of energy-dense foods causes changes in the brain's reward pathway that are central to the development and maintenance of drug addiction. Obese and overweight individuals also display patterns of eating behavior that resemble the ways in which addicted individuals consume drugs. We critically review the evidence that some forms of obesity or overeating could be considered a food addiction and argue that the use of food addiction as a diagnostic category is premature. We also examine some of the potential positive and negative clinical, social, and public policy implications of describing obesity as a food addiction that require further investigation.

Keywords: food addiction; neuroscience; obesity; policy; stigma; treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive / physiopathology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology*
  • Behavior, Addictive / therapy
  • Biomedical Research / trends
  • Diet, Healthy
  • Energy Intake / drug effects
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neurobiology / methods
  • Neurobiology / trends
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / physiopathology
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / prevention & control
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / psychology
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / therapy
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Overweight / physiopathology
  • Overweight / prevention & control
  • Overweight / psychology*
  • Overweight / therapy
  • Reward