FOOD addiction could explain why so many Hunter residents are fat, the preliminary results of a University of Newcastle study suggest.
University of Newcastle doctorate student Kirrilly Pursey is one year into a three-year national study looking at whether food addiction exists as a condition.
Her early results could provide some insight into why figures released in March showed more than half the Hunter was overweight or obese.
Ms Pursey has studied more than 650 people nationwide, including 298 Hunter residents.
Participants were asked in an online survey about their behaviours around food and assessed on whether it mirrored the behaviour of drug addicts.
It included questions about tolerance, withdrawal, desire and cravings for food.
The preliminary results showed most people exhibited around food at least one of the behaviours of addicts.
Ms Pursey was on Friday awarded the Hunter Valley Research Foundation Robin McDonald Regional Research Memorial Scholarship for her work.
Under the first part of the study Ms Pursey looked at the behaviour and figures of Hunter participants.
During the second phase selected subjects will undergo scans to see whether parts of the brain associated with addiction react to fast food, health food or food in general.
In the third phase researchers will see whether they can develop an eating, exercise and psychological plan to beat the addiction.
She hopes her results will help explain why people overeat.
‘‘I think it’s very likely it’s an addiction but it’s still quite early on in the project there definitely needs to be a lot more research,’’ Ms Pursey said.
‘‘Some neurological and psychological mechanisms could contribute to obesity.’’
Ms Pursey said there was still debate in the scientific community about whether the condition existed as an addiction.
‘‘Because food is a necessity to life that’s what sets it apart from addiction,’’ she said.
‘‘Some studies show there’s some areas of the brain that react but there’s no consistency as to the exact area.’’
■ MORE young adults are getting fat than other age groups, according to a study that has tracked 11,000 Australians for 12 years.
But the AusDiab study shows Australians in general are failing to make the lifestyle changes necessary to beat obesity, heart disease and diabetes, and women are putting on more centimetres than men.
Radical action similar to the anti-smoking drive was needed, said joint chief investigator Professor Jonathan Shaw of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.
The health and wellbeing of a whole generation of young Australians was being compromised, he said. AAP