Purpose of review: Food addiction has been implicated as a putative causal factor in chronic overeating, binge eating, and obesity. The concept of food addiction has been controversial historically due to definitional and conceptual difficulties and to a lack of rigorous scientific data.
Recent findings: Support for the food addiction hypothesis comes from alterations in neurochemistry (dopamine, endogenous opioids), neuroanatomy (limbic system), and self-medication behaviors. Foods identified as having potential addictive properties include sweets, carbohydrates, fats, sweet/fat combinations, and possibly processed and/or high salt foods. Eating topography has been identified as a necessary factor in neural pathway changes that promote addiction-like properties in response to some foods. A recently developed food addiction scale shows promise in identifying food addiction.
Summary: Recent findings have strengthened the case for food addiction. These findings may serve to validate the perception of food addiction in patients and inform psychoeducational, cognitive-behavioral, and/or pharmacological treatment for chronic food cravings, compulsive overeating, and binge eating that may represent a phenotype of obesity. Screening for food addiction has the potential to identify people with eating difficulties that seriously compromise weight management efforts. Future research should include a focus on human food addiction research; evaluating the impact of treatment on underlying neurochemistry; and prevention or reversal of food addiction in humans.