Washington: Scientists have revealed in a new study that those at risk for alcoholism are also at an increased risk for obesity.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis noted that the association between a family history of alcoholism and obesity risk has become more pronounced in recent years.
“In addiction research, we often look at what we call cross-heritability, which addresses the question of whether the predisposition to one condition also might contribute to other conditions,” said Richard A. Grucza.
“For example, alcoholism and drug abuse are cross-heritable. This new study demonstrates a cross-heritability between alcoholism and obesity, but it also says — and this is very important — that some of the risks must be a function of the environment. The environment is what changed between the 1990s and the 2000s. It wasn’t people’s genes,” he added.
Grucza added that the risk stems from changes in the food we eat and the availability of more foods that interact with the same brain areas as addictive drugs.
“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,” Grucza said.
“Alcohol and drugs affect those same parts of the brain, and our thinking was that because the same brain structures are being stimulated, overconsumption of those foods might be greater in people with a predisposition to addiction.”
Grucza said that a possible explanation for obesity in those with a family history of alcoholism is that some individuals may substitute one addiction for another.
“I would speculate, although I can’t really prove this, that a change in the food environment brought this association about.”
The results, he said, suggest there should be more cross-talk between alcohol and addiction researchers and those who study obesity.
The study is published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.