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Survey to explore junk food ‘addiction’ in young adults

Craving chocolate? Hooked on hot chips? University of Newcastle (UON) researchers are calling for young men and women to join a study examining levels of food ‘addiction’ in Australia.

Emerging research indicates that eating foods high in sugar, salt and fat can elicit reactions in the brain similar to those occurring in drug and alcohol addiction. For vulnerable individuals this could contribute to overeating and obesity, according to dietetics researcher Kirrilly Pursey.

“The ingredients added to indulgent junk foods may have properties that affect hormones in our body which regulate our appetite as well as dopamine release, the ‘feel-good’ chemical in the brain,” Ms Pursey said.

“We’re aiming to develop a weight-loss program combining nutrition and psychological components targeted at people displaying addictive-like eating behaviours. But first we need more information regarding food addiction in the young Australian population.”

Preliminary study suggests around 15 per cent of young adults displayed addictive-like eating tendencies.

The researchers are now seeking more people aged 18-35 years to complete an online survey about food addiction.

In stage two of the study, the research team will use advanced MRI scanning technology to investigate in real time how the brain responds to images of different types of food.

“We’ll be looking at what it is about certain foods that may make them more addictive, as well as how addictive eating behaviours can affect dietary intake,” Ms Pursey added.

“This is an important step to help us to better understand food addiction, how common it is, and identify specific foods that it may be associated with.

“Also, understanding the underlying mechanisms for these behaviours might identify new behavioural targets and drugs to treat obesity in some individuals and will inform better public health policy to help people make more informed decisions about food.”

For more details contact Kirrilly Pursey on Kirrilly.Pursey@newcastle.edu.au or 4921 5690.

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