1 in 8 Americans over 50 may have ‘food addiction’

Credit: Szabo Viktor / Unsplash

In a study from the University of Michigan, scientists found a sizable percentage of older Americans have an unhealthy relationship with food.

They found in the National Poll on Healthy Aging, about 13% of people aged 50 to 80 showed signs of addiction to such foods and beverages in the past year.

The percentage is much higher among women than men—especially women in their 50s and early 60s. It was also higher in older adults who say they are overweight, lonely, or in fair or poor physical or mental health.

In the study, the team used a set of 13 questions to measure whether, and how often, older adults experienced the core indicators of addiction in their relationship with highly processed foods such as sweets, salty snacks, sugary drinks and fast food.

These addiction indicators include intense cravings, an inability to cut down on intake, and signs of withdrawal.

Previous research has found that the brain responds as strongly to highly processed foods, especially those highest in sugar, simple starches, and fat, as it does to tobacco, alcohol and other addictive substances.

In order to meet the criteria for an addiction to highly processed food on the scale used in the poll, older adults had to report experiencing at least two of 11 symptoms of addiction in their intake of highly processed food, as well as report significant eating-related distress or life problems multiple times a week.

These are the same criteria used to diagnose addiction-related problems with alcohol, tobacco and other addictive substances.

The team found the most commonly reported symptom of an addiction to highly processed foods in older adults was intense cravings.

Almost 1 in 4 (24%) said that at least once a week they had such a strong urge to eat a highly processed food that they couldn’t think of anything else.

And 19% said that at least 2 to 3 times a week they had tried and failed to cut down on, or stop eating, these kinds of foods.

These findings could help identify older adults with addictive eating habits who could benefit from referrals to nutrition counseling or programs that help people address addictive eating or get affordable access to healthier foods.

If you care about nutrition, please read studies about nutrients that could help reduce high blood pressure, and strawberries could help prevent Alzheimer’s.

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies that olive oil may help you live longer, and vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.

The study was conducted by Ashley Gearhardt et al.

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