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The psychology of obesity – USATODAY.com

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Although people might be inclined to think of nutritionists or dietitians, obesity is "one of the big common public health issues that falls right in the heart of psychology, " says psychologist Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Among a host of questions aimed directly at the psychology of eating are why Americans are eating more than they used to; whether some foods can really be addictive; and whether more people than in the past are genetically predisposed to pack on pounds.

Rozin, who has studied humans and food for 30 years, is one of dozens of psychologists who will share their latest findings and theories this weekend at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting, starting Thursday in Orlando. Obesity is one of the themes.

"Obesity has been much more resistant to treatment than any reasonable person would have thought 50 years ago, " he says.

There's no question that Americans are heavier than ever before. More than one-third of adults are considered obese and almost 17% of teens and kids fit the category, according to the most recent federal data, released earlier this year.

In fact, food is everywhere at any time, and advertising is an additional lure, says psychologist Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. "We've been completely retrained to think that large portions are acceptable, that eating throughout the day is acceptable, that eating late at night is acceptable, that eating in the car is acceptable, " he says. "All the boundaries that would put limits around eating have been exploded."

Among the most-blamed culprits are intense food marketing toward consumers and less physical activity.

But research scientist David Allison has some other ideas. A psychologist who directs the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Allison points to other contributors, such as too little sleep and advanced maternal age, which some research has shown can increase the chances of overweight kids.

Allison's new research, online in Frontiers in Genetics, finds that people with higher body mass index tend to partner with those of similar BMI and may predispose their offspring to obesity. Using Danish height and weight data collected for hundreds of thousands of children at age 13, researchers were able to find 37, 792 spousal pairs who married between 1945 and 2010. They then calculated couples' BMIs. The study he co-wrote confirms that those with higher BMIs tended to pair up and suggests the implications for heavier offspring.



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