Phil’s musing about World Health Day and Food Addiction

World Health Day and Food Addiction

World Health Day is a global health awareness day celebrated every year on April 7th, under the sponsorship of the World Health Organization, as well as other related organizations http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2018/en/. This special attention on issues of world health affords me the opportunity to muse about the critical issue of food addiction.

We don’t have solid data on how many in the world are food addicted. That’s the first problem. However, we do know that the obesity and other problems of overeating now affect more people of the United States and worldwide than the problems of starvation and malnutrition. [1]

The best information we have about food addiction is from a study of one U.S. metropolitan area, reported by Dr. David Kessler (not yet published). From this research, Dr. Kessler estimates there are 70,000,000 adults, in the United States alone, who have the characteristics of food addiction: physical craving and loss of control. [2]

Another significant problem is that most of those with food addiction are misdiagnosed, mistreated or not treated at all. Since food addiction progressively creates a problem of loss of control, this means that millions of those who are overweight or obese are not able to achieve and maintain necessary weight loss. Worse, they also suffer from a brain disease which distorts the mind and causes enormous emotional suffering.

Finally, of course, there is the cost. If we assume that the cost of food addiction is just one third that of obesity, [3] it would mean that food addiction and its associated medical problems are costing $49 billion per year, just in the United States.

The third problem, also related to money, is that Americans below the median income level are almost entirely excluded from short- or long-term residential treatment for food addiction. We talk with self-assessed middle- and late-stage food addicts every month who cannot achieve and maintain abstinence from their binge foods, and who find the cost of a five-day residential ACORN Primary Intensive beyond their grasp financially, even though there is a high likelihood that it could help them get abstinent and save money in the long term. [4]  In the case of ACORN workshops, the cost of services is cut as much as possible, [5] and financial help is only possible when there are donations for this purpose from others who have funds to contribute. At residential treatment centers a major problem is that health insurance frequently does not cover addiction model treatment. This is unlikely to change until the American Psychiatric Association accepts food as a substance use disorder as a formal diagnostic category.

[1] Danielle Dellorto, CNN, 2012.

[2] Kessler’s figure of 70,000,000 adults with food addiction was report in Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt, the follow-up book to his New York Times bestseller, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. In an NPR interview about the book, Kessler said that the estimates from this study found 50 percent of the obese, 30 percent of the overweight and 20 percent of those at a ”healthy” weight or less to be, at least, at an early stage food addiction.

[3] CDC, annual cost of obesity and its associated health problems in the U.S., $147 billion, 2018

[4] Most of those who become food addiction abstinent spend less on food than on their prior binge foods.  Those in later stages of food addiction are often having difficulty working and maintaining the quality of their work; their earning capacity becomes more stable over time and often increases with abstinence and recovery.

[5] The ACORN residential workshop model offers services at one-quarter to one-half the cost of most food addiction treatment centers. Of course, it is not a licensed treatment center with traditionally certified health professionals.


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Join us in wishing Phil a Happy 77th Birthday, April 2!

 

 


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