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Family History of Alcoholism Ups Obesity Risk

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A family history of alcoholism could make people more likely to overindulge on junk food, Reuters reported Dec. 31.

To assess whether familial alcohol dependence was linked to obesity, Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) researchers compared national survey data on obesity and addiction from 1991-1992 with data from 2001-2002. Roughly 80,000 U.S. adults completed the surveys.

Based on the 2001-2002 data, women who reported having an alcoholic parent or sibling had a 49% higher risk of obesity than women with no family history of alcoholism — a much higher association than that shown in 1991-1992.

A similar trend was seen for men, although the link was less dramatic.

Although the results can be partially explained by the increased consumption of high calorie/low nutrition food in the US, they also suggest a familial link, said Richard Grucza, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at WUSM and the study’s lead author, in a news release.

“Much of what we eat nowadays contains more calories than the food we ate in the 1970s and 1980s, but it also contains the sorts of calories — particularly a combination of sugar, salt, and fat — that appeal to what are commonly called the reward centers in the brain.”

Since alcohol and drugs affect the same parts of the brain, he continued, people with a family history of alcoholism may simply be substituting one addiction for another.

“There is a whole slew of literature out there suggesting these hyper-palatable foods appeal to people with addictive tendencies,” said Grucza.

“I would guess that’s what we’re seeing in our study.”

The research appeared in the December 2010 issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

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