winter 2013

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‘First of their kind’

 

Food addiction and the development of human obesity


Sun Lab Photo

 

Some of the team members involved in the new study of food addiction at the population level are back (from left): Dr. Ed Randell, Farrell Cahill, Dr. Wayne Gulliver and Danny Wadden. Front (from left): Dr. Guang Sun, Alecia Rideout, a fourth-year honours student in biochemistry, Pardis Pedram, MD, PhD candidate and first author of the paper, and Hong Wei Zhang, research assistant.

A new paper released this fall from the laboratory of Dr. Guang Sun, professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial, shows that food addiction is an important contributing factor in the development of obesity.

By Sharon Gray

A new paper released this fall from the laboratory of Dr. Guang Sun, professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial, shows that food addiction is an important contributing factor in the development of obesity.

“Our findings are the first of their kind in the world,” said Dr. Sun. “We have shown that food addiction is indeed an important contributing factor in the development of obesity. The prevalence of food addiction was 5.4 per cent and increased concomitantly with obesity status defined by either body mass index (BMI) or body fat percentage.”

This is the first scientific study of food addiction at the population level. The paper, titled Food Addiction: Its Prevalence and Significant Association with Obesity in the General Population, was published on September 4, 2013 in the PLOS ONE journal. The first author is Pardis Pedram, a PhD candidate under the supervision of Dr. Sun. The co-authors include Danny Wadden, Peyvand Amini, Wayne Gulliver, Edward Randell, Farrell Cahill, Sudesh Vasdev, Alan Goodridge, Jacqueline Carter, Guangju Zhai, Yunqi Yi and Guang Sun.

A total of 652 adults from Newfoundland and Labrador — 415 women and 237 men — participated in the study. Food addiction was assessed using the Yale Food Addiction Scale and the macronutrient intake was determined from the Willet Food Frequency Questionnaire. The study found that the clinical symptom count(s) of food addiction (similar to the measurement of fasting blood sugar concentration in diabetic patients) is strongly associated with the severity of obesity. The study also revealed that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with food addiction as men.

“More remarkably, the clinical symptom count(s) of food addiction are also strongly associated with adiposity measurements in non-food addicted people, or the remaining 94.6 per cent of the population,” said Dr. Sun. “This means that although individuals may not be clinically diagnosed with food addiction, food addiction symptoms are potentially part of the cause of increased fat mass in the general population.”

Dr. Sun said the findings regarding the important role of food addiction in the development of human obesity have important influence in the field of obesity study and are a big factor for physicians, insurance companies and governments to consider in treatment method, insurance and government policy-makings just like the battle history of smoking on human health.

Obesity and being overweight is the fifth leading cause of global death and the second most preventable cause of death in the United States.

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