Impulsive people have a higher tendency to have an unhealthy relationship with food. They are more likely to eat to the point that they feel ill or become so preoccupied with eating food that it affects their relationships, according to a study published in the journal Appetite.

Researchers from the University of Georgia determined the levels of food addiction and impulsivity of 233 subjects using the Yale Food Addiction Scale and the UPPS-P Impulsive Behavior Scale and compared the results with the subjects' body mass index (BMI). They found that people who have impulsive personalities are more likely to have higher levels of food addiction.

The researchers, however, pointed out that impulsive behavior doesn't lead to obesity, but rather to food addiction.

"Our study shows that impulsive behavior was not necessarily associated with obesity, but impulsive behaviors can lead to food addiction," said the study's lead investigator James MacKillop, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia's Franklin College of Arts and Science.

Food addiction is characterized by compulsive eating similar to drug addiction. Although it is believed to be a key contributor to obesity, people who have normal weight may also struggle with food addiction. They may be able to eat excess calories without gaining weight or they participate in physical activities that burn those extra calories.

"The notion of food addiction is a very new one, and one that has generated a lot of interest," MacKillop said. "My lab generally studies alcohol, nicotine and other forms of drug addiction, but we think it's possible to think about impulsivity, food addiction and obesity using some of the same techniques."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese and this puts them at higher risk for a number of life-threatening diseases, including heart disease and some types of cancer. Researchers hope that their results will help doctors and experts come up with treatment and intervention plans that can help obese people with food addiction problems. The study is one of the first to examine addictive eating habits and how they contribute to obesity.

"Modern neuroscience has helped us understand how substances like drugs and alcohol co-opt areas of the brain that evolved to release dopamine and create a sense of happiness or satisfaction," MacKillop said. "And now we realize that certain types of food also hijack these brain circuits and lay the foundation for compulsive eating habits that are similar to drug addiction."

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