Raising concerns about how the media portrays the concept of food addiction, a new study questions whether endorsement of this model “may cause people to perceive a lack of control over eating which could promote unhealthy dietary behaviors.” Charlotte Hardman, et al., “‘Food Addiction is Real’: The effects of exposure to this message on selfdiagnosed food addiction and eating behavior,” Appetite, April 2015.

To explore this hypothesis, researchers with the University of Liverpool and University of Bristol directed 60 study participants to read fake new articles describing food addiction as either a “myth” or “real.” The study then used a disguised taste test to measure consumption of “indulgent” and “non-indulgent” snack foods (potato chips, cookies, breadsticks and grapes), in addition to asking participants if they perceived themselves as food addicts.

The results evidently showed that “the proportion of self-diagnosed addicts more than doubled (57%) when participants were exposed to information that food addiction is real, relative to participants who were informed that food addiction is a myth.” The study also reported that mean intake of food did not increase after exposure to food addiction messages, although “the variability in food intake was significantly greater in the Real condition relative to the Myth condition.”

“Our study contributes to a more general debate around whether acceptance of the food addiction model is helpful or counterproductive,” conclude the authors. “On the one hand, the belief that food is addictive may offer some solace to individuals who are struggling with eating and weight… However, the alternative argument is that public health messages which imply a lack of personal control over eating may undermine beneficial self-regulatory processes, such as health-focused dieting, and result in high-calorie food choices.”