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Med Hypotheses. 2008 Nov;71(5):709-14. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2008.07.006. Epub 2008 Aug 13.

The obesity epidemic: is glycemic index the key to unlocking a hidden addiction?

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Public Health Medicine Registrar, Auckland Regional Public Health Service, Private Bag 92 605, Symonds Street, Auckland, New Zealand.


High body mass index (BMI) is an important cause of a range of diseases and is estimated to be the seventh leading cause of death globally. In this paper we discuss evidence that food consumption shows similarities to features of other addictive behaviours, such as automaticity and loss of control. Glycemic index is hypothesised to be the element of food that predicts its addictive potential. Although we do not have substantive evidence of a withdrawal syndrome from high glycemic food abstinence, anecdotal reports exist. Empirical scientific and clinical studies support an addictive component of eating behaviour, with similar neurotransmitters and neural pathways triggered by food consumption, as with other drugs of addiction. The public health implications of such a theory are discussed, with reference to tobacco control. Subtle changes in the preparation and manufacturing of commonly consumed food items, reducing glycemic index through regulatory channels, may break such a cycle of addiction and draw large public health benefits.

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