Scientists and doctors have long debated whether “food addiction” is real and whether it plays a role in obesity. A new brain imaging study offers intriguing evidence that suggests obese people are hard-wired to crave sugary and fatty foods.
A team of international scientists, who presented their findings at a neuroscience conference in Amsterdam earlier this week, has discovered that food cravings can lead to brain and behavioral changes in obese people similar to those seen in drug addicts.
“What we do know is that both food and drugs can cause behaviors that are very similar to addiction, such as the inability to cut down, continued use despite negative consequences, and a sense of a loss of control,” Dr. Oren Contreras-Rodriguez, a researcher at the University of Granada in Spain and one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post in an email.
“Comparing food addiction with drug addiction is controversial — drug use changes the way the brain functions, and this is not still clear in obesity,” Contreras-Rodriguez added.
But the study did show that food cravings seem to activate the brain’s reward system differently in obese people compared to individuals of a healthy weight.
For the study, 39 obese people and 42 healthy-weight people were given a buffet-style meal. A few hours later, their brains were scanned while they viewed photos of high-calorie foods from the buffet, which was meant to stimulate cravings.
What did the brain scans reveal?
The brains of the healthy-weight people showed increased connectivity between areas involved in flavor evaluation and areas involved in emotion and reward-motivated decision-making.
This means that the people were more likely to consider how good the food tastes, as well as other factors — like nutrition value and hunger level — when determining whether or not