Are Food Addicts Stigmatized?

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale have looked into how the public judges people with an addiction to food.

While more attention has been placed on food addiction, no professional studies have been carried out on whether a stigma surrounds it.

The Yale study used an online survey of 659 adults who were asked their opinions about individuals with various maladies, including mental illness, smoking, obesity, physical handicaps, food addiction and cocaine addiction. A separate study looked at only three areas of addiction–smoking, alcohol and food. Both studies showed that individuals were more forgiving of those with a food addiction compared to other addictions or handicaps.

The authors suggest that the “food addict” label could increase blame toward obese individuals if the public views food addiction as a euphemism for out-of-control overeating.

“Our findings offer preliminary insights into how food addiction is perceived among other health conditions and how it affects public attitudes toward obesity,” said Rebecca Puhl, the Rudd Center’s director for research and weight stigma initiatives.

This doesn’t mean that there is a favorable opinion of food addicts. Both studies also revealed that there is a stigmatism that reflects negatively on those addicted to food. Most people believe that obese individuals are food addicts and have a high level of disdain toward them. In some cases, there were even feelings of anger directed at obese people.

Food addiction is not formally classified in the 5th Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but mounting research on the subject suggests that it is a real condition. In 2011, researchers at Yale found that food addiction affects the brain in a similar manner to drug addiction.

Some of the most common food addiction symptoms include constant thoughts about food, either worrying about eating or fantasizing about it throughout the day. A food addict will also eat beyond satiation on a regular basis. Eating is one way people soothe themselves when they’re depressed. Some food addicts don’t even have to be feeling down, they’ll just eat. Food addicts hide their addictions just like anyone else–they’ll dine on a clandestine cheeseburger or sneak in a last-minute cupcake before bed.

As discussions about food addiction continue to surface in public health and popular culture, the study authors assert, more research is needed to understand how the use of a “food addict” label may influence public views and reactions.

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