Food and Behaviour Research

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Development of the Highly Processed Food Withdrawal Scale

Schulte EM, Smeal JK, Lewis J, Gearhardt AN (2018) Appetite.  2018 Sep.  pii: S0195-6663(18)30619-6. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.09.013. [Epub ahead of print] 

Web URL: Read this and related abstracts on PubMed here


Food addiction posits that highly processed foods may be capable of triggering addictive-like symptoms in some individuals, including withdrawal.

The current study developed and assessed the psychometric properties of the first self-report measure of highly processed food withdrawal. Individuals (n = 231) aged 19-68 (51.9% female) were recruited online through Amazon Mechanical Turk and reported cutting down on highly processed foods in the past year. The Highly Processed Food Withdrawal Scale (ProWS) was adapted from self-report measures of drug withdrawal and internal consistency and validity were evaluated.

Paralleling the course of drug withdrawal, symptoms assessed by the ProWS were reported as most intense between days 2-5 during an attempt to cut down. The ProWS demonstrated convergent validity with addictive-like eating (r = 0.48, p < .001), body mass index (BMI) (r = 0.16, p = .02), and weight cycling (r = 0.29, p < .001) and discriminant validity with dietary restraint: (r = -0.13, p = .04). The ProWS explained 11.2% of variance in self-reported success in last diet attempt beyond addictive-like eating and BMI.

The ProWS seems to be a psychometrically sound tool for future research investigating highly processed food withdrawal in humans, and the present data may provide preliminary insight into the plausibility of withdrawal symptoms occurring in response to cutting down on highly processed foods.


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