Obesity has limited behavioural overlap with addiction and psychiatric phenotypes

Uku Vainik, Bratislav Misic, Yashar Zeighami, Andréanne Michaud, Rene Mõttus, Alain Dagher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Obesity is a widespread health condition1, likely to be driven by the increased availability of inexpensive high-calorie food2. People vary greatly in their behavioural response to food. Such variation is likely to be driven by behavioural styles3,4, as behaviour accounts for overall food intake5. A prominent hypothesis is that people with obesity respond to rewards similarly to people with addictions such as alcohol abuse or smoking6,7. For instance, perceived overeating or 'uncontrolled eating' (UE) is the most common obesity-associated personality trait8 and resembles the perceived loss of control seen in drug addiction. Likewise, both obesity and addictive behaviours have similar correlations with broad personality domains3. Here we seek to empirically test whether obesity and UE overlap behaviourally with addiction and psychiatric disorders, collectively referred to as phenotypes. We test for behavioural similarity by linking the personality profiles of each phenotype. NEO Personality Inventory profiles of 28 phenotypes were extracted from 22 studies, encompassing summary statistics from 18,611 unique participants. Obesity had moderate and UE high behavioural similarity with addictions. UE also overlapped behaviourally with most psychiatric phenotypes, whereas obesity was behaviourally similar with mood disorders and certain personality disorders. Facet-based phenotype profiles provided more information than domain-based profiles.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Early online date28 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Oct 2019


  • addiction
  • human behaviour
  • obesity
  • psychiatric disorders
  • psychology


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