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Personal profile

Research interests

Nutrition and Behaviour Unit web pages

ResearchGate profile

My research focuses on psychobiological controls of food choice and food intake, and on how underlying principles inform our understanding of human appetite and energy balancing (including obesity). Animal models indicate that associative learning plays a critical role in dietary behaviour and my work has pioneered the study of this process in humans. Researchers with an interest in energy balance have tended to focus on biological and psychological processes that terminate a meal. My work suggests that these prandial events are less relevant in humans because meal size is more often determined before a meal begins. From this, it follows that to understand energy intake we need to appreciate the cognitive activity associated with decisions about portion size.

In particular, and with support from the BBSRC (2009-2017), my group have shown that ‘expected satiation’ and ‘expected satiety’ are key drivers of the number of calories that we put on our plate (perhaps even more important than palatability). To complement this work, my group have also explored the effects of eating behaviour on food intake, with a particular focus on the mechanism by which rate of eating influences food choice and appetite.

More recently, several of my projects have addressed questions about our modern food environment. Modern commercial foods are very unlike those that our forebears would have encountered. Not only do they differ in sensory and physical properties, but they also tend to be much more energy dense (calories per gram), and they are available in numerous different portion sizes, brands, and varieties. Much of my work has focused on whether modern humans are well adapted to these new foods and how they come to influence dietary decisions that promote a poor diet and overconsumption. This work started in 2014 as part of a collaborative 5-year EU-funded project called Nudge-it, and it continues in different forms today.

In the Nutrition and Behaviour Unit we tend to study people who have only ever been exposed to a Western diet. A concern is that we might overlook important detail or, worse still, we might draw general conclusions that don’t translate to other cultures. To address this issue we have conducted field research involving the Samburu - a population of semi-nomadic pastoralists who live in a remote area of Kenya. More recently, our reach has extended to comparisons in China and beyond.

Since 2017 my group has also teamed up with others to form the NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre. As lead for the Type-2 Diabetes Workstream, I collaborate with other researchers to form the Nutrition Theme of this BRC. Our work focuses on the early development of interventions aimed at addressing health outcomes associated with diabetes and obesity. 

Finally, in the last few years I have become interested in ways to translate my fundamental research to create sustainable food systems by adapting consumer behaviour. As part of this process my group are currently creating a ‘consumer lab’, which enables researchers to study the effects of dietary or behavioural interventions in a real-world commercial food outlet. This initiative also links to my role as co-lead for the Food Security Theme, which forms part of the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment.



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