Europe-wide study of relationship between food, hunger and brain
7 March 2011
A €9 million EU-funded project will bring together scientists
from 19 European labs to investigate how our body responds to food at
different stages in our lives.
The five-year study, co-ordinated by the University of Aberdeen
Rowett Institute for Nutrition and Health, will fill the gaps in our
understanding of the relationship between food, the gut and our
brain and how this regulates our feelings of hunger and satiety or
The Full4Health project brings together researchers from
Aberdeen, plus another four partners in the UK; Greece; the
Netherlands; Norway; France, Germany and Denmark.
A major element of the study is to examine the body’s responses
to food in lean and overweight males and females from four different
age groups — children, teenagers, adults and the elderly.
It is also hoped that the findings will help inform the food
industry as to how food could be formulated in the future to help
tackle obesity as well as under-nutrition in the elderly, and those
recovering from illness.
Professor Julian Mercer, head of obesity and metabolic health at
the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute for Nutrition and
Health, is co-ordinating the study which comprises a number of
different work streams.
He said: “The Full4Health study will involve a range of different
projects which will investigate the mechanics of hunger, satiety and
feeding behaviour and how these interact and change over the years.
“One long-term hope is to find a food solution — probably a
reformulation of food — to help with the problem of inappropriate
over-consumption of calories as well as the low caloric intake often
found in elderly people who don’t have the appetite they once had.
“Obesity is a major public health problem and although a number
of drugs have reached the market for its treatment, most have been
subsequently withdrawn due to the emergence of unacceptable side
effects. This has provided extra impetus on efforts to develop
dietary strategies to tackle the problem.”
Professor Mercer said: “Most dietary studies tend to focus on a
specific population group, usually middle aged overweight men. But
we need to understand how responses to food differ in our bodies
across the different age groups. This is the first study of its kind
that we know of to take this approach. ”
This part of Full4Health will take place in Aberdeen and Athens
and volunteers aged between eight and 75 will be recruited next
year. A total of 250 will be recruited in Aberdeen.
Professor Mercer said: “We are working with a food manufacturer
on a yoghurt type of pre-meal supplement containing protein and
energy that our volunteers will take before lunch.
“Using a number of measurements such as questionnaires to measure
hunger, computer tasks to assess attitudes to food, blood samples to
measure metabolites and hormones and, in some cases MRI scans to
measure brain activity, we will then monitor how the food interacts
with the body’s signalling systems to determine what is eaten at the
“We’ll measure what happens when the food passes down the
gastrointestinal tract to the stomach and what signals go to the
brain to say you have eaten enough or need to eat more.
“Quite a lot is known about the signalling between the gut and
the brain which tells us when we feel full, although research has
tended to overlook some parts the brain that are involved in this
signal integration. Comparatively little is known about the impact
of food on these signals and how different types of food might be
exploited to reduce calorie intake.
“We want to piece together all these different elements and see
how they all interact with each other. Ultimately we would like to
be able to harness the power of our natural physiology, and our
complex interactions with food, to demonstrate the potential of a
food solution to the health problems of over- and under-consumption
of calories throughout our lives.”