Obesity and overeating are growing problems in America today. In this article by Oliver Grimm, he cited studies that speculate that in 2000 112,000 deaths were caused by obesity. There is also evidence that up to 1/3 of the US population may be considered overweight or obese. These numbers are startling and the root of this problem is under intense debate and scientific inquiry. This search by scientist has led to many discoveries and theories behind why some people are unable to control their eating habits or their weight.
One question that this article attempts to address is “Is overeating and addiction to food similar to drug addiction and what role does body chemistry play?”.
Hormones are the regulators of the human body. There is much current research being aimed at these chemicals within the body and especially how they affect brain chemistry and maybe even addictive behaviors. Dopamine is one hormone that has been examined in both drug addicts and obese individual. Dopamine produces a reward sensation in the brain when we get something we want or when we are surprised.
There is some research that says that drug addicts and obese individuals tend to have fewer dopamine receptors in the brain. This may cause them to have the urge to continue consuming food or drugs beyond a normal need. With fewer receptors, the brain may continue to look for ways to sate itself. Research the author cited pointed to rats that were denied dopamine soon would not eat anything.
Another chemical that may prove to be important in fighting the obesity epidemic and drug addiction is leptin. This hormone has been shown to curb hunger when it is released from adipose (fat) cells where it eventually reached the hypothalamus. Lab animals deprived of this chemical soon became obese. This hormone may provide a vital link in helping severely obese people control their eating. If individuals have a faulty feedback mechanism or a lack of production of leptin, this may cause them to want to eat more.
Other areas to be explored are how certain parts of the brain react to addiction, satiety and pleasure. Areas of the brain that have been researched that Mr. Grimm examines are the amygdala and the orbitofrontalis(OFC).
The amygdale seems to have some involvement in our response to food or drugs when we are hungry for them. It does not seem to be activated as much when we have taken in food or drugs. The OFC is generally thought of as an area of the brain that helps us to maintain rational behavior and use good judgment. This area may be operating differently in addicts.
The author says that diet, exercise and lifestyle are the best ways to live healthy and control weight. His view; however, is that all research cited shows. “the brain processes stimuli related to eating in much the same way that it does to other addictive stimuli”(Grimm, 2007). For us to have a better understanding of why certain people find it so hard to control their weight we may have to look more at addictive behaviors and the research that has been conducted. “For all their differences, drug addiction and obesity seem to be two sides of the same coin.” (Grimm, 2007)
2) What are you being asked to believe in this article?
In Mr. Grimm’s article we asked to believe that 9.1% of medical expenditures if for overweight and obese patients. We are also asked to believe that one-third of the US population may be overweight or obese according to studies. Overweight is defined a having a body mass index greater than 25. Simply put, body mass index is your weight divided by your height. We are asked to believe that obesity and being overweight are at epidemic proportions in this country.
We are also being asked to believe that much of a person’s behavior when it comes to addiction and food consumption in obese individuals may be directly related to the person’s brain chemistry or factors affecting it. While the author agrees that there are many factors in a healthy lifestyle and behavior control, much of the article deals with research that says that hormones, brain function and chemical activity are huge contributors in how a person reacts to stimuli.
Leptin and dopamine are seen as avenues that may lead to breakthroughs in the area of obesity. Areas of the brain such as the amygdala and the OFC are seen as possible areas that may lead to a better understanding of cravings and addictions.
I believe that the main idea that the author is trying to convey is that drug addiction and food consumption are very closely related. We are asked to consider that a person who is obese may be in a similar predicament as a drug addict. The article says that drugs that help drug addicts may also help us to treat severe obesity. Again we are asked to parallel the two dilemmas and weigh their relevance to one another. It is hard for people to associate obesity with drug addiction, but Mr. Grimm would like us think otherwise and keep an open mind to the possibility of research in drug addiction that could lead to breakthroughs in obesity and weight management.