• Heart Failure
  • Cardiovascular Clinical Consult
  • Adult Immunization
  • Hepatic Disease
  • Rare Disorders
  • Pediatric Immunization
  • Implementing The Topcon Ocular Telehealth Platform
  • Weight Management
  • Monkeypox
  • Guidelines
  • Men's Health
  • Psychiatry
  • Allergy
  • Nutrition
  • Women's Health
  • Cardiology
  • Substance Use
  • Pediatrics
  • Kidney Disease
  • Genetics
  • Complimentary & Alternative Medicine
  • Dermatology
  • Endocrinology
  • Oral Medicine
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Diseases
  • Pain
  • Gastrointestinal Disorders
  • Geriatrics
  • Infection
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders
  • Obesity
  • Rheumatology
  • Technology
  • Cancer
  • Nephrology
  • Anemia
  • Neurology
  • Pulmonology

Food Addiction Affects 1 in 8 Americans Over Age 50 Years: New Poll Findings


Among Americans aged 50 to 80 years, approximately 13% met criteria for addiction to highly processed foods in the past year, according to new data from the National Poll on Healthy Aging. The poll found the percentage higher among women than men, and among older adults who say they are overweight, lonely, or in poor health, physically or emotionally.

Intense craving led symptoms of addiction to highly processed foods with nearly 1 in 4 respondents (24%) saying that at least once a week they had such a strong urge to eat food in this category that they couldn’t think of anything else. Their eating behavior caused a significant amount of stress for 12% of those polled up to 3 times a week or more.

“The word addiction may seem strong when it comes to food, but research has shown that our brains respond as strongly to highly processed foods, especially those highest in sugar, simple starches and fat, as they do to tobacco, alcohol and other addictive substances,” said University of Michigan (U-M) psychologist Ashley Gearhardt, PhD, MPhil, MS in a U-M release. Gearhardt, an associate professor of psychology at U-M added, “Just as with smoking or drinking, we need to identify and reach out to those who have entered unhealthy patterns of use and support them in developing a healthier relationship with food.”

Gearhardt and the U-M poll team used a questionnaire consisting of 13 questions to determine whether and how often older adults experienced the core indicators of addiction in relationship with highly processed foods (eg, sweets, salty snacks, sugared drinks, fast food). The criteria are the same used to diagnose addiction-related problems with alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive substances.

To classify as having a food addiction, the 2163 participants had to demonstrate 2 of 11 symptoms of addiction to highly processed foods, as well as report eating-related distress or life problems multiple times a week.

Symptoms of addiction include intense cravings, an inability to cut down on intake, and signs of withdrawal upon reducing intake.

Given the poll’s findings, Gearhardt suggests that this set of questions be incorporated into clinical screening at office visits to help identify adults with food addiction who could benefit from nutritional counseling, support groups that address addictive eating, or from affordable access to healthier foods.

Based on the criteria of meeting at least 2 out of 11 symptoms of addiction, the U-M team found that women were more likely to experience food addiction compared with men (18% vs. 8%). Respondents aged 50 to 64 years were also more likely to have food addiction compared with those aged 65 to 80 years (17% vs. 8%), with women aged 50 to 64 years being the most likely to meet the criteria (22%).

More findings on respondents meeting criteria for addiction to highly processed foods:

“Clinicians need a better understanding of how food addiction and problematic eating intertwines with their patients’ physical and mental health, including chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer,” said poll director Jeffrey Kullgren, MD, MPH, MS, associate professor of internal medicine at Michigan Medicine and physician and researcher at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

“We need to understand that cravings and behaviors around food are rooted in brain chemistry and heredity, and that some people may need additional help just as they would to quit smoking or drinking.”

“We need to understand that cravings and behaviors around food are rooted in brain chemistry and heredity, and that some people may need additional help just as they would to quit smoking or drinking.”

The National Poll on Healthy Aging is based at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI) and supported by the AARP and Michigan Medicine.

The report itself is based on findings from a nationally representative survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for IHPI and administered online and via phone in July 2022 among 2163 adults aged 50 to 80 years. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect the US population. The poll methodology is available here.

Related Videos
New Research Amplifies Impact of Social Determinants of Health on Cardiometabolic Measures Over Time
Overweight and Obesity: One Expert's 3 Wishes for the Future of Patient Care
Donna H Ryan, MD Obesity Expert Highlights 2021 Research Success and Looks to 2022 and Beyond
"Obesity is a Medically Approachable Problem" and Other Lessons with Lee Kaplan, MD, PhD
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.