Background

Food addiction (FA) is related to greater body mass index (BMI), eating-disorder psychopathology, food craving, and psychosocial impairment. Less is known, however, regarding the utility of the FA severity specifiers, as measured by the number of symptoms endorsed on the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS 2.0).

Methods

Participants (N=1,829) were recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk to complete an online survey on eating behaviors. Participants completed self-report measures assessing FA, eating-disorder psychopathology (Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire), and food craving (Food Craving Inventory). Based on the YFAS 2.0 specifiers, participants were classified into four FA groups: No FA (n=1,526), Mild (n=93), Moderate (n=90), and Severe (n=120).

Results

Using ANOVA, there was an overall BMI effect among groups (η2=.04; p<.001); No FA group weighed significantly less (M=26.31; SD=6.16) than the Mild (M=28.99; SD=7.37), Moderate (M=30.53; SD=7.47), and Severe FA groups (M=29.55; SD=7.88). Using ANCOVA, adjusted for multiple comparisons and covariates (e.g., BMI, binge-eating episodes), No FA group reported significantly lower levels of shape concern (η2=.09; p<.001), weight concern (η2=.10; p<.001), and global eating-disorder psychopathology (η2=.07; p<.001) than Mild, Moderate, or Severe FA groups. Severe FA group reported significantly greater eating concern (η2=.03; p<.001) and food craving (η2=.03; p<.001) than No, Mild, or Moderate FA groups. No FA group reported significantly lower levels of dietary restraint than Moderate and Severe FA groups (η2=.01; p<.01).

Conclusions

Our findings parallel the severity specifiers literature for eating and substance use disorders by also indicating the limited utility of severity specifiers based on symptom count, particularly in the Mild to Moderate ranges. Similarly, there were no differences in BMI among participants with Mild, Moderate, or Severe FA. Future research should investigate alternative targets for discriminating among levels of FA.