Yale Food Addiction Scale

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The Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) is a 25-point questionnaire, based on DSM-IV codes for substance dependence criteria, to assess food addiction in individuals. The scale was released in 2009 by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.[1]

It was found that the brain mechanisms in people with food addiction were similar to those in people with substance dependence, such as drug addicts.[2] While there is currently no official diagnosis of "food addiction", the YFAS was created to identify persons who exhibited symptoms of dependency towards certain food. Foods most notably identified by YFAS to cause food addiction were those high in fat and high in sugar. A self-reported standardized tool was created by a Yale researcher, Ashley Gearhardt, to determine those individuals at high risk for food addiction, regardless of weight.[1]

Food addiction[edit]

The term food addiction remains a controversial topic. The concept of food addiction addresses a person’s behavioral and neurophysiological changes with certain foods that closely resemble findings found in persons with substance dependence. The term became especially popular in the second half of the twentieth century, driven by the “obesity epidemic”.[3] Earlier studies suggest that food addiction, similar to that of drug addiction, mainly exert their actions through the dopamine and opiate pathways.[4] Using Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) subjects regardless of Body mass index(BMI), with high food addiction score compared to those with lower scores, showed significant differences in brain activity.[1] Furthermore, a study conducted by the Scripps Research Institute found that rats fed a high-fat palatable diet for extended periods, overstimulated the brain’s reward system, similar to brain activity in drug addiction.[5]

Development of YFAS[edit]

To address the need for a standardized tool to identify persons with food addiction behaviors, psychologist Ashley Gearhardt, along with her colleagues William R. Corbin and Kelly D. Brownell, developed the Yale Food Addiction Scale while completing her graduate research at Yale University as a clinical psychology doctoral student.[2] Gearhardt and colleagues formatted their questionnaire to be based upon content of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV “text revision” for substance dependence and was reviewed by experts in the fields of addiction, obesity, and eating pathology for revision.[4]


YFAS contains 25 self-reported questions in dichotomous and Likert-type format. In the original scale, two items were included to determine the foods that triggered dependence. When filling out the questionnaire, subjects are asked to refer to the past 12 months of behaviors.[6] The questions fall under seven specific substance dependence criteria as defined by the DSM-IV, as well as clinically significant impairment.[4] The seven criteria per the instruction sheet for the YFAS are:[6]

  1. Substance taken in larger amount and for longer period than intended.
  2. Persistent desire or repeated unsuccessful attempt to quit.
  3. Much time/activity to obtain, use, recover,
  4. Important social, occupational, or recreation activities given up or reduced.
  5. Use continues despite knowledge of adverse consequences (e.g., failure to fulfill role obligation, use when physically hazardous).
  6. Tolerance (marked increase in amount; marked decrease in effect).
  7. Characteristic withdrawal symptoms; substance taken to relieve withdrawal.

Food addiction is recognized when an individual meets at least three of the above symptom criteria and scores for clinically significant impairment or distress.[4] A German version is available and a French version was utilized in a food addiction study targeting overweight and obese women.[2]

Foods emphasized[edit]

The YFAS survey identified certain foods that were likely to trigger dependence symptoms. These foods correlate with the high-fat, high-sugar foods selected in prior food addiction studies, however, the survey subject is instructed to think of any foods or food groups that cause positive symptoms identified in the questionnaire. The YFAS questionnaire lists the following foods:

  • Sweets like ice cream, chocolate, doughnuts, cookies, cake, candy
  • Starches like white bread, rolls, pasta, and rice
  • Salty snacks like chips, pretzels, and crackers
  • Fatty foods like steak, bacon, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, pizza, and French fries
  • Sugary drinks like soda pop[7]

Modified scales[edit]

A shortened YFAS (mYFAS) consisting of only nine items was proposed in 2014 which had similar prevalence rates as the 25-item YFAS.[2] To address the role food addiction plays in children, the original adult YFAS was adjusted. The Yale Food Addiction Scale for Children (YFAS-C) includes more age-appropriate activities, a lowered reading level, and a new scoring threshold.[8]


Incidence of scores positive for food addiction were higher in overweight and obese patients. However, further research is needed to define the correlation of YFAS scores in regards to BMI. Previous studies have shown mixed results mainly due to limited sample size, concurrent eating disorders, and lack of clinical controls.

Five years after development of YFAS, Gearhardt and Adrian Meule summarized its utilization in research studies and its limitations. Gearhardt and Meule concluded:

    "Although, the YFAS is not sufficient evidence that 'food addiction' exists, it does provide a standardized tool to identify individuals who are the most likely to be experiencing an addictive response to food." [2]


  1. ^ a b c http://www.yale.edu/graduateschool/publications/news/201109/gearhardt-food-addiction.html
  2. ^ a b c d e Meule, Adrian, and Ashley N. Gearhardt. "Five years of the Yale Food Addiction Scale: Taking stock and moving forward." Current Addiction Reports 1.3(2014): 193-205. Print.
  3. ^ Corwin, R. L., and P. S. Grigson. "Symposium Overview--Food Addiction: Fact Or Fiction?." Journal of Nutrition 139(2009): 617-619. Print
  4. ^ a b c d Gearhardt, AN, Corbin, WR, and Brownell, KD. "Preliminary validation of the Yale Food Addiction Scale." Appetite 52(2009): 430-436.Print.
  5. ^ Johnson, Paul M, and Kenny, Paul J. "Dopamine D2 receptors in addiction-like reward dysfunction and compulsive eating in obese rats." Nature Neuroscience 13 (2010): 635-641. nature neuroscience. Web. 18 July 2014. http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v13/n5/full/nn.2519.html
  6. ^ a b "Home - UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity" (PDF). Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  7. ^ "Home - UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity" (PDF). Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  8. ^ Gearheardt, Ashley N, Roberto, Christina A., Seamans, Marissa J., Corbin, William R., Brownell, Kelly D.. "Preliminary validation of the Yale Food Addiction Scale for children." Eating Behaviors 14 (2013): 508–512. Print.

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