February 5, 2013
In the first studies to examine what the public thinks about people with an addiction to food, researchers at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale found that while this addiction is less vulnerable to public stigma than others, it could increase the stigma already associated with obesity. The studies are published online in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.
Findings from both studies revealed that food addiction was viewed more favorably compared to other addictions. For example, attitudes toward food addiction were more forgiving and less stigmatizing than attitudes toward addiction to alcohol and tobacco. The person with the “food addict” label was perceived to be more likeable and generated more empathy, less disgust, and less anger than those labeled with alcohol and tobacco addictions. The person with the “food addict” label was blamed less for the addiction compared to those labeled with smoking and alcohol addictions.
However, survey findings also showed that labeling an individual as a “food addict” increased stigmatizing attitudes when this label was applied to an obese individual. Participants expressed more irritation, anger, and disgust toward an obese person described as a food addict. The authors suggest that the “food addict” label could increase blame toward obese individuals if the public views food addiction as a euphemism for out-of-control overeating.
As discussions about food addiction continue to surface in public health and popular culture, the authors assert, more research is needed to understand how the use of a “food addict” label may influence public views and reactions.