Obese People "Addicted" to Food—Who Knew?


Actually the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is publishing a fascinating study that looked at the brains of seven obese people who are hooked up to a nerve stimulator that can induce feelings of fullness and satiety. Their brain scans "lit up" much the same way that those of people addicted to various drugs do. Of course, science is here confirming something we all know–being fat indicates that people really like to eat.

As someone with a body mass index of 26.7, I know I eat because it feels really good. Now some of my more puritanical colleagues will suggest that it just takes willpower to overcome this kind of addiction. Some of us with a more naturalistic bent translate "willpower" into having the executive circuits in our pre-frontal cortices capable of overriding the desire for immediate pleasure demanded by our dopamine reward systems. Fortunately, 22 years and 4 months ago, my fear of death managed to activate my prefrontal cortex enough to get me to drop my 3 to 4 pack a day cigarette habit. The pleasure of good food and drink is much harder for me to give up.

As Professor Jimmy Bell, of the molecular imaging group at Hammersmith Hospital in Britain explained to the BBC:

"I do not think it is surprising they have found a link between drug addiction and overeating. In a way you can think of eating as a 'necessary addiction'—if we were not addicted to eating, most of us would stop eating."

Outside help in bolstering our "willpower" may be on its way in various forms, including a vaccine to prevent obesity.