Binge eating is big problem, York U prof says


TORONTO, October 11, 2005 -- York University professor Caroline Davis is investigating what makes us fat -- including our DNA and our decisions. 

A leading expert on eating disorders, Davis focuses on our biology and on certain cognitive processes that influence decision-making. She leads a group of Toronto researchers doing a genetic study of Binge Eating Disorder. The study is looking at both biology (through DNA samples) and personality as contributors to compulsive overeating. In a separate study, Davis is studying how being overweight and overeating may be partly due to a decreased ability to make good decisions that consider long-term negative consequences.

“Binge eating is an important contributor to the increase in the population’s body weight,” said Davis. “It makes sense to examine obesity from more than one angle because many factors may contribute.”

In the study Davis is coordinating at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Toronto General Hospital, each participant’s genetic material (DNA) is being examined for particular genes that seem to lead some people to develop disordered eating while others do not. These genes are related to the brain chemical dopamine, which plays a key role in regulating motivation to engage in pleasurable or rewarding behaviour. The study is looking at the possible effects on behaviour of a single dose of a stimulant used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Participants’ personalities and activities will also be assessed.

In a separate study, Davis is conducting an extensive survey of 500 adult men and women to determine if obese people tend to have decision-making deficits.

“A lot of obesity research looks at biological processes and uses animals. But people are different than rats. They are not just driven by biological urges; they have the ability to make choices about the food they eat,” says Davis.

Research has shown that patients who have suffered damage in certain regions of the brain, through stroke for example, and some individuals who have substance dependence problems, often have trouble assessing consequences and choose immediate rewards in the face of long-term negative consequences, says Davis. A pilot study she has done has also suggested that, on average, overweight and obese people may have poor decision-making skills even in tasks that are unrelated to food.

Both of the studies that Davis is working on need volunteer participants who are overweight or who frequently engage in eating binges without the compensatory behaviours (such as self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse). To inquire about volunteering, please call 416-736-2100, ext. 77327.

“This research is important because an estimated 60 per cent of adults in the United States and Britain are overweight or obese,” says Davis.


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For more information, contact:
Janice Walls, Media Relations, York University, 416-736-2100 x22101 /