Food and addiction is emerging issue, says food policy expert
Overweight and obese individuals can achieve a decade's worth of important health benefits by losing just 20 pounds, even if they regain the weight later that decade, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association's 120th Annual Convention. With a focus on psychology's role in overcoming the national obesity epidemic, the session also examined research that indicates foods high in sugar and fat could have addictive properties.
Rena Wing, PhD, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University's Alpert Medical School and director of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., presented the latest in behavioral treatments for obesity in an address. Kelly Brownell, PhD, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, cited some of the latest findings about food addiction in his talk. Brownell and Wing were keynote speakers for the convention's opening session.
"Obesity is the No. 1 health challenge facing our country today," APA President Suzanne Bennett Johnson said in introducing Wing and Brownell. "These psychologists have each contributed greatly in combating the obesity epidemic in different ways, one on the individual patient level and the other on the public policy level."
Johnson presented APA Awards for Outstanding Lifetime Contribution to Psychology to Wing and Brownell for their pioneering work in obesity research.
Wing referred to her work from the Diabetes Prevention Program, a national study of 3,000 overweight people with impaired glucose tolerance who were shown how to change their behavior rather than given drugs. It showed that even modest weight loss, an average of 14 pounds, reduced people's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent, she said. What's more, the health benefits of this weight loss lasted up to 10 years, even if people gained the weight back over this time, she said. Participants in the program practiced basic behavioral strategies to help them lose weight, including tracking everything they ate and reducing the amount of unhealthy foods they kept in their home, she said. They also met with coaches frequently and increased their physical activity over the course of the study.