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Food addiction and obesity: unnecessary medicalization of hedonic overeating


The concept of addiction is loaded with connotations and is often used for its political as much as its medical utility. The scientific case for 'food addiction' as a clinical phenotype currently rests on its association with generic diagnostic criteria for substance-related disorders being applied to everyday foods and eating-related problems. This has fused the concept of obesity with addiction regardless of whether it fits the definition. The hedonic, or reward, system can account for the ingestion of foods and drugs, confirming that they share neural substrates that differentiate liking and wanting. These are normal processes that are recruited for natural homeostatic behaviours and can explain the phenomenon of hedonic overeating as a consequence of human motivation pushed to extremes by an obesogenic environment. Food addiction constitutes a medicalization of common eating behaviours, taking on the properties of a disease. The use of this medical language has implications for the way in which society views overeating and obesity.

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The author thanks J. Blundell (University of Leeds, UK) for his comments and discussion about this article and acknowledges the contribution of C. Long and M. Dalton (University of Leeds, UK) in its preparation.

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Correspondence to Graham Finlayson.

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Finlayson, G. Food addiction and obesity: unnecessary medicalization of hedonic overeating. Nat Rev Endocrinol 13, 493–498 (2017).

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