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Food Addiction Statistics

Eating unhealthy foods can damage the brain’s reward system and lead to food addiction. Studies have found that this addiction can affect anyone, but certain groups may be more susceptible than others.

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The Changing Landscape of Food Addiction

Food addiction, caused by how unhealthy foods interact with the brain’s reward system, has grown in prevalence over the years.

While substance use disorders typically dominate the broader topics of addiction, more research is finally being conducted on food addiction.

The research on food addiction is still ongoing, but even the early statistics show that this type of addiction can affect anyone of any age or background. However, some demographics are more at risk than others for food addiction.

How Common Is Food Addiction?

Although food addiction is not officially recognized as a diagnosis in the DSM-5 (‌Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), the condition is still widely diagnosed and treated by healthcare providers.

Here’s how common food addiction is in the US:

  • According to research from the University of Michigan, one in eight Americans over 50 (13%) show signs of food addiction.
  • Studies from the American Psychological Association (APA) show that 38% of adults report overeating or eating unhealthy foods in the past month because of stress.
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Who Is Affected by Food Addiction?

Because all humans need to eat food to survive, anyone can develop a food addiction or be affected by the condition.

Food addiction occurs when a person becomes addicted to the release of dopamine (part of the brain’s reward center) caused by the compulsive overeating of highly palatable foods commonly abused in food addiction.

Highly palatable foods include highly processed food products containing large amounts of sugar, fat, and salt. With how accessible and affordable these palatable foods are, whether it’s through fast food or food delivery services, the prevalence of food addiction is rising.

Food Addiction Statistics by Age

Upbringing, plus the eating behaviors and attitudes we’re taught, can significantly affect a person’s risk factors for developing food addiction. In addition, our metabolism and neural pathways change as we age, meaning highly processed foods can have different effects throughout our lives.

  • A study by the University of Florida showed that 50 children aged 8–19 reported 32.6% of children indicated they thought they were addicted to food.
  • That same study reported that the children reported symptoms consistent with emotional overeating, food preoccupation, and overconcern with body image related to self-esteem.
  • According to the University of Michigan’s ongoing National Poll on Healthy Aging, food addiction was found to be more common among adults 50 to 64 than those 65 to 80.

Food Addiction Statistics by Race

While research on food addiction by race is still ongoing, some published studies reveal the rates of food addiction by race.

  • According to the Public Health Promotion Program of South Carolina, significant differences were found by race, with African Americans having more food dependence than Whites.
  • A study conducted by the Unversity of Michigan on obese patients with binge eating disorder showed the following rates of food addiction per race:
    • African-American: 28.9%
    • Hispanic: 7.9%
    • Caucasian: 55.3%
    • Other: 7.9%

Food Addiction Statistics by Gender

Considering the different beauty standards set for different genders and how emotional eating is perceived for men and women, it’s no surprise that food addiction and compulsive eating vary between men and women.

Research from the University of Michigan showed how food addiction is experienced by gender.

According to the study, food addiction was found in:

  • 22% of women aged 50 to 64 and 18% of women aged 50 to 80
  • 32% of women who say their physical health is fair or poor
  • 14% of men who their physical health is fair or poor
  • 45% of women who say their mental health is fair or poor
  • 23% of men who say their mental health is fair or poor
  • 17% of men who self-report they are overweight*
  • 34% of women who self-report they are overweight*
  • 51% of women who say they often feel isolated from others
  • 26% of men say they often feel isolated from others

*For clarification, “overweight” is considered a body mass index (BMI) that is higher than the average weight for someone of the same height)

Food Addiction Compared to Alcohol and Drug Addiction

Highly palatable foods often found in food addiction affect the same brain receptors as certain drugs. Even though most people don’t think of food as similar to drugs or alcohol, certain types of foods can be just as addictive as traditional substances being abused.

According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), 21.9% of Americans were current illegal drug users, and 20.4% had an alcohol addiction as of 2020.

Compared to these rates of substance abuse, the University of Michigan reported that 14% of adults and 12% of children fit the criteria for food addiction.

Food Addiction Recovery Statistics

Unfortunately, no current data or studies on food addiction recovery rates exist.

However, many recovering addicts and physicians report that people with food addiction can fully recover with the right therapy and support.

Like with substance dependence, food addicts tend to do best with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). These types of therapy help patients manage the symptoms of food addiction and potential withdrawal symptoms.

In addition, by working with a nutrition counselor, patients can better learn to manage food cravings and food intake and improve their eating habits.

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Finding Treatment for Food Addiction

Food addiction can be challenging to deal with, whether you’re the one addicted or a loved one is. However, there are several options available to help you enter recovery.

By speaking with your doctor or therapist about your addictive behaviors, they can help you determine a suitable treatment plan for you.

Food addiction support groups include:

Don’t have a doctor or still don’t know where to start? Try using SAMHSA’s treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to find mental health treatment options in your area.

FAQs About Food Addiction

How common is food addiction?

Recent studies indicate that food addiction occurs in 14% of adults and 12% of adolescents in the US. With how easy and cheap junk foods are, these numbers appear on track to only grow.

Can you cure food addiction?

There is no cure for food addiction, as there is no cure for any addiction. However, with the right treatment plan and support, food addicts can learn to manage cravings for specific foods, learn better habits, and develop strategies to avoid relapse in the future.

What are the most addictive foods?

The Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) used to assess food addiction lists highly palatable foods high in salt, fat, and sugar as common trigger foods.

The foods commonly listed include:

  • Fries
  • Chips
  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Chocolate
  • Ice cream
  • Pasta
  • White bread

Can food addiction affect your health?

Food addiction can negatively impact a person’s health in many ways, causing more short-term issues like weight gain and eventually leading to long-term concerns such as heart disease.

How many people in the US have a food addiction?

According to the most recent research from the University of Michigan, 14% of adults and 12% of children in the US have a food addiction.

Who is most at risk for food addiction?

Although anyone can become addicted to food, as all humans must eat to live, specific individuals may be at higher risk of developing food addiction.

Common risk factors for developing a food addiction include:

  • History of addiction in the family
  • Existing addiction or substance abuse issues
  • Upbringings where unhealthy eating habits or overeating was taught and/or encouraged
  • Mental illnesses like ADHD, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, impulse control issues, or eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder
Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. American Psychological Association. (2013). Stress and Eating. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/eating
  2. Gearhardt, A. N., White, M. A., Masheb, R. M., & Grilo, C. M. (2013, July). An Examination of Food Addiction in a Racially Diverse Sample of Obese Patients With Binge Eating Disorder in Primary Care Settings. Comprehensive Psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3638060/
  3. Merlo, L. J., Klingman, C., Malasanos, T. H., & Silverstein, J. H. (2009, March). Exploration of Food Addiction in Pediatric Patients: A Preliminary Investigation. Journal of Addiction Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2869098/
  4. Meule, A. (2011, November 3). How Prevalent Is “Food Addiction”? Frontiers in Psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3207274/
  5. Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan. (2023, January 30). One in Eight Americans Over 50 Show Signs of Food Addiction. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/01/230130090408.htm
  6. Searing, L. (2023, February 17). 13 Percent of Americans Over 50 Are Addicted to Processed Foods. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2023/02/21/processed-food-addiction-older-adults/
  7. Thompson, S., Thompson*, S. H., Romeo, S., & Ommega Internationals. (2015, December 16). Gender and Racial Differences in Emotional Eating, Food Addiction Symptoms, and Body Weight Satisfaction Among Undergraduates. Journal of Diabetes and Obesity. https://www.ommegaonline.org/article-details/Gender-and-Racial-Differences-in-Emotional-Eating,-Food-Addiction-Symptoms,-and-Body-Weight-Satisfaction-among-Undergraduates/652
  8. University of Michigan. (n.d.). Addiction to Highly Processed Food Among Older Adults. https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/175578/0298_NPHA-Addictive-Eating-report-FINAL-doi.pdf?sequence=4

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