About 1 in 8 Americans over 50 struggle with an unhealthy relationship with highly processed food that goes well beyond the occasional binge or midnight snack, according to a recent poll.

Known as food addiction, the condition isn’t limited to older adults — previous food addiction data had primarily centered around young- to middle-age adults up to around 50, said Ashley Gearhardt, lead author of the latest research by Michigan Medicine and a pioneer in the field of food addiction studies.

Results have been similar for younger age groups included in previous studies, with about 14% of adults and 12% of children fitting criteria for food addiction, Gearhardt said.

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People might also do inconvenient or harmful things to satiate their urges. “I care about this work so much because I talk to people and they say, ‘I know I’m killing myself. I know that I have unmanaged type 2 diabetes, (but) the pull of this food, this donut is so strong I will drive 40 minutes out of my way even though we have food at home. And I will go eat a dozen of those, even though I could go into diabetic shock,’” said Gearhardt, who is also an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

Despite its apparent prevalence, food addiction hasn’t been officially recognized as a real addiction, disorder or diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the handbook used by health care professionals as the authoritative guide to diagnosing mental disorders.

The body of research on food addiction has only recently gotten to the point where it can support a proposal for inclusion in the DSM, Gearhardt said, but she’s currently working on one she expects to submit within the year.

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