Purpose: As obesity rates continue to climb, the notion that overconsumption reflects an underlying 'food addiction' (FA) has become increasingly influential. An increasingly popular theory is that sugar acts as an addictive agent, eliciting neurobiological changes similar to those seen in drug addiction. In this paper, we review the evidence in support of sugar addiction.
Methods: We reviewed the literature on food and sugar addiction and considered the evidence suggesting the addictiveness of highly processed foods, particularly those with high sugar content. We then examined the addictive potential of sugar by contrasting evidence from the animal and human neuroscience literature on drug and sugar addiction.
Results: We find little evidence to support sugar addiction in humans, and findings from the animal literature suggest that addiction-like behaviours, such as bingeing, occur only in the context of intermittent access to sugar. These behaviours likely arise from intermittent access to sweet tasting or highly palatable foods, not the neurochemical effects of sugar.
Conclusion: Given the lack of evidence supporting it, we argue against a premature incorporation of sugar addiction into the scientific literature and public policy recommendations.
Keywords: Animal neuroscience; Binge eating; Drug addiction; Obesity; Sugar addiction.