Obesity: Addiction, Illness, or just plain Fat-Bashing?

Are we taking this too far? Compulsive eating is undeniably a problem for many individuals, as are other eating disorders, with physical health as well as mental health implications. But an addiction? Substance abuse?

Obesity May Be Substance Abuse Problem
GAINESVILLE, Fla., Aug 15, 2004 (United Press International) — University of Florida researchers said Sunday evidence suggests chronic overeating may be a substance abuse disorder and should be considered an addiction.

“What’s the difference between someone who’s lost control over alcohol and someone who’s lost control over good food? When you look at their brains and brain responses, the differences are not very significant,” said Mark Gold, chief of addiction medicine at UF’s College of Medicine.

Gold was co-author of three studies published in a recent issue of the Journal of Addictive Diseases that linked overeating, obesity, and addiction, the Washington Times reported Sunday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson recently announced that obesity, the second most common cause of death in the country, qualifies as an illness that’s covered by
Medicare.

“We’ve taken the position that overeating is, in part, due to food becoming more refined, more palatable, more hedonic. Food might be the substance in a substance abuse disorder that we see today as obesity,” Gold said.

If overeating is an addiction, why isn’t just plain eating an addiction? Once you start, it’s pretty hard to stop. If you don’t have food, you crave it. If you see food, you want to consume it. If you haven’t had it for a while, you start to have dreams about it. And when you do eat, it’s only a short while before the effect wears off and you want more.

File under “oh, please… sometimes you just have to say ‘no, that’s going too far’…”.

“Confessing” mental illness

You may have seen these recent headlines, or similar ones:

Princess admits mental illness
Japanese princess admits mental illness

What struck me as I read these was how much more work we really have to do when it comes to the stigma of “mental illness” (starting perhaps with eliminating that term entirely).

The headlines give the impression of someone who has been caught and confesses to committing a crime or some other antisocial or reprehensible act: “Princess confesses to mental illness; prosecutors demand life without parole”.

Reading the stories, one quickly learns that the princess is struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression, attributed at least in part to the stress of being under constant scrutiny in the public eye. Well, I’m happy to see the press stepping up to the plate on this one: No doubt having her name splashed across the internet and international newspapers next to the label “mental illness” will make the poor woman feel much better. I am reminded of the paparazzi who hounded Princess Diana to her death a few short years ago.

Clearly, we have a lot more work to do in educating people about anxiety, depression, and other “mental illnesses”… Sadly, the stigma is still as big as it ever was.

PsychLinks Forum reaches an early milestone

Some of you may already know about the PsychLinks Psychology Self-Help & Support Forums, an offshoot of the main PsychLinks Psychology Mental Health & Self-Help Resources website and a sister site to the PsychLinks Blog.Launched on March 25, 2004, PsychLinks Online reached a milestone yesterday with its 1000th post. From a slow initial start, the forum is growing at a nice pace now, and thanks to several active members it is rapidly becoming a community, epitomizing what such forums should be about. If you haven’t yet visited the forum, this may be a good time to think about taking a look.

psychology forum, self-help forum, mental health forum

Pets as Serotonin Boosters

Puppy Love: Pets and serotonin

There have been indications for some time from anectdotal reports and research that people, especially seniors, who live with a pet (usually a dog or a cat) are healthier, happier, and recover more rapidly from illness. A common assumption has been that this is the result of a combination of the required increased activity in caring for the pet, and the companionship provided by another living thing. This article points to another reason…

Puppy Love
July 21, 2004
by Karen Lurie, ScienCentral

Any dog owner can tell you about the benefits of spending time with a furry friend. But now there’s some science to back it up.  ‘We have known for a long time that people like to interact with dogs and that it makes them feel happy and they enjoy it,’ says Rebecca Johnson, a gerontologist at University of Missouri-Columbia’s Sinclair School of Nursing. ‘But it’s important to know how this affects the changes in their bloodstream, so we can see which patients might be the best to benefit from this kind of interaction.’

In her on-going study, Johnson asks 50 dog owners and 50 non-pet owners, with ages ranging from 19 to 73, to play with a live dog and a robot dog. Before and after the interactions, she draws blood samples from human and dog, to compare hormone levels. ‘One of the hormones that we are interested in, which is called serotonin, is the hormone that controls depression in people,’ Johnson explains.

Johnson’s preliminary results show that serotonin increases when people pet their own dogs. ‘We think this is very important because of the large numbers of people in this country and abroad that are depressed, particularly the elderly, that we think may benefit from this kind of interaction,’ says Johnson. However, interaction with an unfamiliar dog didn’t affect serotonin levels. When it came to the robotic dog, serotonin levels actually dropped.

The dogs in the study all benefited from human interaction, whether they previously knew the person or not. Veterinarian Richard Meadows measured the dogs’ blood pressure and blood hormone levels during the test period. “It’s both good for the dog and it’s good for the person, and this appears at this state to be almost universally true,” he says.

pets, pet therapy, depression, mental health