Calorie intake and gambling: Is fat and sugar consumption ‘impulsive’?

Abstract

Excessive calorie intake constitutes a global public health concern, due to its associated range of untoward outcomes. Gambling is commonplace and gambling disorder is now considered a behavioral addiction in DSM-5. The relationships between calorie intake, gambling, and other types of putatively addictive and impulsive behaviors have received virtually no research attention. Two-hundred twenty-five young adults who gamble were recruited from two Mid-Western university communities in the United States using media advertisements. Dietary intake over the preceding year was quantified using the Dietary Fat and Free Sugar Short questionnaire (DFS). Clinician rating scales, questionnaires, and cognitive tests germane to impulsivity were completed. Relationships between dietary fat/sugar intake and gambling behaviors, as well as other measures of psychopathology and cognition germane to addiction, were evaluated using correlational analyses controlling for multiple comparisons. Greater dietary fat and sugar intake were associated with lower educational levels and with male gender. Controlling for these variables, higher dietary fat and sugar intake were correlated significantly with worse gambling pathology and anxiety scores. Dietary sugar intake was also significantly associated with higher depressive scores, more alcohol intake, lower self-esteem, and with greater risk of having one or more mental disorders in general. Dietary intake did not correlate significantly with ADHD symptoms, presence of one or more impulse control disorders, Barratt impulsiveness, or cognitive functioning. These data suggest a particularly strong relationship between fat/sugar intake and symptoms of gambling pathology, but not most other forms of impulsivity and behavioral addiction (excepting alcohol intake). Providing education about healthy diet may be especially valuable in gamblers and in community settings where gambling advertisements feature prominently. Future work should explore the mediating mechanisms between calorie intake and gambling symptoms, such as whether this could be driven by environmental factors (e.g. advertising) or common dysfunction of brain reward pathways.

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