Food Addiction and Psychosocial Adversity: Biological Embedding, Contextual Factors, and Public Health Implications

Sunday, October 17
2:30 PM – 3:30 PM (Central Time)
CE: 1.0
Level 2 (intermediate knowledge/experience)
Activity Code: 163477


The role of stress, trauma, and adversity, particularly early in life, has been identified as a contributing factor in both drug and food addictions. While links between traumatic stress and substance use disorders are well documented, the pathways to food addiction and obesity are less established. This presentation focuses on psychosocial and neurobiological factors that may increase risk for addiction-like behaviors and ultimately increase BMI over the lifespan. Early childhood and adolescent adversity can induce long-lasting alterations in the glucocorticoid and dopamine systems that lead to increased addiction vulnerability later in life. Allostatic load, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, and emerging data on epigenetics in the context of biological embedding are highlighted. A conceptual model for food addiction is proposed, which integrates data on the biological embedding of adversity as well as upstream psychological, social, and environmental factors. Dietary restraint as a feature of disordered eating and weight stigma are discussed as an important contextual factor related to food addiction.

Learning Objectives:

  • List three pathways in which adversity can become biologically embedded.
  • Describe links between early life adversity and addiction-like eating.
  • Describe contextual factors, such as the roles of dietary restraint and weight stigma, in this relationship.

Performance Indicators:

  • 3.2.2 Participates in professional and personal development activities for career growth and skill enhancement.
  • 6.2.3 Interprets data to make recommendations and to inform decisions.
  • 8.2.1 Assesses the physical, social and cultural needs of the individual, group, community or population.