SSEW Soundbites: Dr. Ashley Gearhardt talks Food & Addiction, Early Childhood Exposure & Neuroadaptation

This Fall, the Sugar, Stress, Environment, and Weight (SSEW) Initiative had the privilege of hosting Dr. Ashley Gearhardt (University of Michigan) as a dynamic keynote speaker at the annual SSEW symposium "Food & Addiction: Policy, Environment, and Individual Differences." Dr. Gearhardt is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan and the the director of the Food and Addiction Science and Treatment (FAST) Lab. Her research explores the similarities between addictive and eating behaviors using neuroimaging, behavioral phenotyping, and measurement development. She focuses on how the food environment, marketing, product placements may lead potentially addictive foods to have widespread clinical and public health consequences. She has developed the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS), which is a measure designed to assess signs of addictive eating behaviors. 

In these short clips from her keynote address, she discusses her own research and studies from others that have contributed to our understanding knowledge of food and addiction. 

Not all foods are created equal
Some foods engage the brain's reward systems in problematic ways and are not beneficial for health.


Downgrading the dopamine system
Rats will go the extra mile to consume highly palatable foods, like M&Ms and cheeseburgers. Less naturally rewarding foods, which they typically would be motivated to consume, just can't compete. 

Reactivity in brain regions in response to powerful food cues
Dr. Gearhardt outlines a study she conducted with colleagues Drs. Eric Stice and Soja Yokum, which was designed to examine neural activation in response to consumption and anticipated consumption of a milkshake or glass of water. Read the study, published in JAMA, here

Early exposure to sugar & using the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) for children  
After age 2, a child is more likely to have a sugar sweetened food or beverage on a given day than a fruit or vegetable. What does early exposure mean for the development of food addiction? 

Attitudes about food addiction and policy reform
Individuals who endorse that food can be addictive are more open to policy initiatives that are focused around shifting food environments. Having conversations and sharing information is a step towards creating change in our communities and environments. 

Stay tuned for the full talks produced by UCTV. Want to hear more from SSEW? You can watch last year's SSEW Symposium lectures by clicking here