Obesity is a global problem with no reliable solution. On the face of it, the problem is simple - obesity arises when an individual eats more calories then they expend - but the dogmatic solution of eat-less-do-more often fails.
The brain is crucial in eating behaviour, not only the conscious decision-making systems, but the unconscious systems that constantly monitor the body’s energy status, and those that alert us to potentially rewarding foods. Thus, the amount and type of food consumed depends not only on an organism’s energy balance and nutrient requirements but also on the rewarding properties of certain foods. Palatable foods are well-known to activate the brain’s reward pathway, and in the developed world at least, sugary and fatty foods very widely-available, safe to eat and inexpensive. Their rewarding properties can activate central motivation pathways that may overwhelm homeostatic control of eating and lead to bouts of overeating. Some believe this may result in addictive-like eating behaviour.
I am interested in the neural correlates of reward and pleasure with a view to better understanding ideas around “food addiction”. I am also interested in how the brain is influenced by palatable food, diet, obesity and stress, particularly by exposure before birth, and whether prenatal experience may have long-lasting effects across life.
Research in our lab is funded by three European Community Seventh Framework Programme Grants: Nudge it, NeuroFAST and Full4Health.
Hebebrand J, Albayrak O, Adan R, Antel J, Dieguez C, de Jong J, Leng G, Menzies J, Mercer JG, Murphy M, van der Plasse G, Dickson SL. "Eating addiction", rather than "food addiction", better captures addictive-like eating behavior. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014 47:295-306.
JRW Menzies, KP Skibicka, E Egecioglu, G Leng, SL Dickson. Peripheral signals modifying food reward. In Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology: Appetite Control, Ed. H-G Joost; Springer, 2012; Vol 209.
JRW Menzies, 2012. My brain made me do it and my gut didn’t help. J Neuroendocrinol. 24(9):1272-3.
JRW Menzies, SL Dickson, G Leng, 2012. Neural substrates underlying interactions between appetite, stress and reward. Obesity Facts 5(2):208-220.