Prevalence of social, cognitive, and emotional impairment among individuals with food addiction

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Purpose The clinical utility of the construct of food addiction has been heavily debated. Though food addiction has been associated with psychosocial impairment in clinical samples, it is critical to examine these associations in non-clinical samples, to obtain unbiased evidence regarding this phenomenon’s clinical significance. It is also unknown which types of impairment are most common in food addiction. This observational study explored the association of self-reported food addiction with impairment in the domains of social, cognitive, and emotional functioning. Methods Participants (356 university students and 544 adults recruited through Mechanical Turk) completed the Yale Food Addiction Scale 2.0 and Clinical Impairment Assessment 3.0 questionnaire, as well as measures of emotional eating, reward-driven eating, binge eating, and general disordered eating. Results Food addiction scores showed large correlations with emotional (r = 0.55, 0.57), social (r = 0.56, 0.59), and cognitive impairment (r = 0.58, 0.53) in the student and Mechanical Turk samples, respectively. The most common difficulties endorsed were emotional (e.g., feeling ashamed or critical of oneself, upset, or worried due to one’s eating habits), followed by social and cognitive. Conclusion Food addiction was strongly associated with psychosocial impairment in two non-clinical samples, suggesting this phenomenon merits further investigation. We found substantial associations of food addiction with emotional as well as social and cognitive impairment.