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20% of people in Kuwait are addicted to food

By Abdellatif M Sharaa

KUWAIT: Consultant in internal medicine, gastroenterology and liver diseases Dr Wafaa Al-Hashash has affirmed that 20 percent of Kuwait’s population is affected by “food addiction”, approximately 940,000 individuals, according to a study published in Jan 2022. The study utilized the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) to determine that the prevalence rate of food addiction is 20 percent globally.

She added “food addiction” is characterized by excessive consumption of high-energy foods, a lack of satiety and escalating consumption even when the body doesn’t require it. This condition is specifically associated with foods containing sugar, wheat or both. Dr Hashash pointed out that “food addiction” operates on the same neurological mechanisms as drug addiction, targeting the same neurotransmitters in the brain that affect reward centers, triggered by dopamine release, resulting in feelings of happiness or euphoria.

Over time, individuals require larger quantities of food to achieve the same feelings of happiness and euphoria, as dopamine receptors decrease, mirroring the mechanisms of drug addiction. She explained “food addiction” is assessed using tools designed to reflect diagnostic criteria for other addiction disorders, such as loss of control over consumption and a strong desire to continue despite negative health consequences. The Yale Food Addiction Scale, introduced in 2009, is a valid psychological tool specifically designed to assess food addiction using diagnostic criteria.

Dr Hashash noted that women are more susceptible to this type of addiction, with research results indicating that approximately 24 percent of women are affected by it. In general, individuals over the age of 35 have a prevalence rate of about 22.2 percent, while those with excess weight have a rate of approximately 24.9 percent. Individuals with eating disorders have the highest prevalence rate at around 57.6 percent. She also highlighted that food addiction rates increase in cases of anxiety, depression and social isolation, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addictive foods are those containing sugars, wheat or both, such as pizza, chocolate, potato chips, French fries, burgers, cheese, pastries, soft drinks and others. Dr Hashash mentioned that the symptoms of addiction cannot be identified through blood tests but rather through various behaviors, such as a strong desire for food even after just having eaten a healthy meal, an inability to stop eating even when feeling full, finding excuses to indulge in desired foods, multiple unsuccessful attempts to quit consuming these foods and other various behaviors.

She recommended consulting a gastroenterologist to determine if there is any organic cause contributing to these addictive behaviors, using behavioral and therapeutic techniques. Additionally, she advised preparing a list of pros and cons related to lifestyle choices and engaging in regular physical activity.

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