December 21, 2009
THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR
Obesity can be rooted in addiction and should be treated with the same therapies, a researcher at McMaster University suggests.
The controversial theory by Valerie Taylor, published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, is that therapies for obesity often fail because the patient’s food addiction goes untreated.
“Classifying obesity as an addiction is a strong statement and implies much more than merely a change in semantics,” states the commentary by McMaster’s Taylor and two York University researchers. “It indicates that screening for addiction and binge eating should become a routine part of treatment for obesity.”
“Food addiction” is a label that has caused clinical and scientific controversy.
But Taylor’s commentary shows there are many parallels between obesity and other types of addiction such as rising tolerance over time whereby increasing amounts are needed to reach satisfaction, similar areas of the brain being activated, withdrawal symptoms and high incidence of relapse.
“The whole problem with obesity and obesity management is just getting worse every year and people are spending huge amounts of money on unsafe and unsuccessful diet programs,” said Taylor, an assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience. “I think we need to look at some of the things that may be contributing to that lack of success and I think this is one thing.”
Hamilton obesity expert Dr. Sean Wharton said the theory makes sense.
“I think we’ve known this type of thing was possible but it wasn’t fully understood from a scientific standpoint,” he said. “We need an explanation beyond the fact that overeating is just a lack of self restraint … It makes sense they derive an excess amount of pleasure from overeating.”
Wharton says this new way of thinking could lead to radically different treatments for obesity.
“We need to understand that there are treatments for addictive personalities and addictive behaviours that are frequently outside of the realm of surgery or medication.”