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America's hidden epidemic: food addiction

Nicole Sinclair
Markets Correspondent

You may have heard the word "bingeing" used casually. People binge on food, alcohol, or even a series on Netflix (NFLX). But Binge Eating Disorder, or B.E.D., is the most common eating disorder in the US. It impacts almost 3 million Americans, making it more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.

And it may be vastly underreported.

B.E.D. was only recognized as an official disorder in 2013, which is when it was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

For years, eating disorders were classified into one of three groups—anorexia, bulimia, and “eating disorder not otherwise specified,” making it difficult for individuals with B.E.D. to seek treatment covered by insurance.

B.E.D. includes bingeing on average at least once a week for three months and feeling that one’s eating is out of control during a binge. Individuals with B.E.D. don’t routinely try to “undo” their excessive eating with extreme actions like throwing up or over-exercising.

While the exact cause of B.E.D. is unknown, certain theories suggest that adults with the disease may have differences in brain chemistry that could reduce activity in impulse control-related parts of the brain, increasing the “wanting”of a particular food. There is evidence that family history and certain life experiences may also play a role.

The food industry—including names like Mondelez (MDLZ), Coca-Cola (KO), and General Mills (GIS)—has come under fire for the role it plays in making food more addictive as well, including investing in recipes that keep consumers wanting more.

On Thursday, Philadelphia passed a sugar tax. Several studies have related sugar addiction to more commonly-discussed addictive substances, including cocaine. But analysts have included that sugar taxes wouldn’t impact the overall growth of the sugar industry, especially from developing regions with growing middle classes, like Brazil and China.

B.E.D. has also received more focus in recent years, especially as one-third of Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Global News Anchor Katie Couric hosted a panel on B.E.D. to discuss some of the most important aspects of the disease.

Monica Seles became the youngest number 1 tennis player in the world at age 17 and won 9 Grand Slam championships throughout her career, yet she struggled with binge eating disorder over the course of her career. She’s been outspoken about her struggles with binge eating disorder throughout her successful tennis career and joined Couric to discuss her journey.

ABC News Correspondent Mara Schiavocampo also shared her story on her struggle with B.E.D. before losing 90 pounds.

Brad Lamm, an interventionist who founded one of the few treatment clinics for the disorder, Breathe Life Healing Centers, discussed the scope of the disease and treatment remedies.

And I discussed how the industry may have contributed to the problem and the role insurance companies are playing.

Nicole Sinclair is Markets Correspondent for Yahoo Finance.