Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

FP7

NUDGE-IT Report Summary

Project ID: 607310
Funded under: FP7-KBBE
Country: United Kingdom

Periodic Report Summary 2 - NUDGE-IT (The Neurobiology of Decision-Making in Eating - Innovative Tools)

Project Context and Objectives:
Nudge-it explores the determinants of food choice. The project is multidisciplinary, involving nine teams from six countries, engaging internationally leading experts in the neurobiology of eating behaviour, experimental psychology, functional brain imaging, behavioural economics, computational modelling and public health policy.
In the developed world food is abundant and we must make choices about what we eat. But these choices can bring problems - it can be hard to make healthy decisions. Often, foods that are inexpensive and convenient contain a large number of calories, and as a result the levels of overweight and obesity are high and rising.
The various determinants of food choice include dietary components, but also cultural and social pressures, cognitive factors (such as perceived stress), and familial, genetic and epigenetic influences. Choices are also influenced by how foods are marketed and labelled, by economic factors, and choices reflect both habits and impulses, moderated by an understanding of what constitutes ‘healthy eating’.
Our objectives are to:
- develop novel approaches to understand how early life experiences and environmental determinants affect food choice.
- develop novel neuroimaging technologies to understand the brain mechanisms underlying food choice and understand how the lifelong learning process contributes to this.
- model how physiological, psychological, and emotional factors (like impulsivity and stress) predispose people to unhealthy eating.
- advance knowledge and develop new tools to model and test the decision processes involved in dietary choices, with a specific focus on low socioeconomic status groups.
- develop a formal predictive systems model of the interactions between physiological, psychological and emotional factors related to food choice.
- construct a policy toolbox.

Project Results:
We have used translational models to examine interventions during early life and their impact on behaviour. We have shown that neither transient access to unhealthier food nor stress in early life impacts on food choice in adulthood. Additionally, we found an unexpected role for a stomach-derived hormone in the control of impulsive behaviour
Further mechanistic studies are ongoing into early-life and physiological influences of food choice in rats. We have built a large sample of low income participants to translate these early-life approaches into human studies.
In human studies, we have already shown, by brain imaging during a food-related task, that decision-making is tightly linked activity in certain brain regions; alterations in these brain areas may be associated with the behavioural changes that lead to obesity. Also, for the first time in humans, we have shown that different subregions of the brain’s appetite control system form functional networks. We established a functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) system as a novel means of monitoring brain activity during choice behaviours. Using magnetoencephalography we explored neuronal processes during food choices and associated value computations in different metabolic states (hungry and satiated). We used quantitative MRI to reveal specific white matter tract changes related to obesity.
We confirmed the need for standardized measures of food-related brain responses and personality characteristics and developed a measurement toolbox to be used alongside brain imaging techniques. This allows any researcher to select, combine and generate computer-based questionnaires and experimental tasks.
We have shown that food choice can be deconstructed using the tools we have developed and that BMI is predicted by a different weighting of variables in models of food choice. We have also used brain imaging to study the neural correlates of these behaviours. For example, we have shown that that subjective appetite ratings do not necessarily follow gastric simulation and, more specifically, that fullness is influenced by other factors (e.g. perceived thickness) than gastric volume.
In our work on emotion, we discovered weak effects of positive and negative emotional states on changes in the choice patterns over unhealthy foods, but discovered a novel association between individuals’ general physiological and psychological status and adaptability and their food choices at both the behavioural and neurobiological levels. We are also developing a rat model of positive and negative emotions using ultrasonic vocalisations as a readout of mood.
We are in the process of developing novel computational models of the neural networks involved in food choice, and a systems level model of body energy management.
We are also gathering data in large populations on perceived barriers to healthy eating and planning a school-based intervention to foster fruit and vegetable among children in Germany. This long-term experiment should increase our understanding of the overall impact of nudging interventions on dietary choices.
A key objective of the project is to widely and effectively disseminate outcomes of the project. As well as interactions with peers, interaction with the public and relevant stakeholders is a crucial part of the project. Project partners have contributed to a number of museum exhibitions and science festivals. An innovative part of the project’s dissemination strategy is to implement a massive open online course (MOOC; “Understanding Obesity”) based on the themes of the project. The first iteration attracted almost 20,000 enrolees from 175 countries with 82% stating the course met or exceeded their expectations. Further iterations will target food and nutrition-related professional groups with the ability to inform and alter public health policy from the bottom up.

Potential Impact:
Our focus is on developing knowledge that translates into policy. The project will develop innovative tools that link understanding across interacting scientific disciplines. The overall aim is to better understand decision-making in food choice and to build predictive models with strong explanatory power to contribute to educate stakeholders and improve public health policy. In doing so, we will gain more insight into the effect of dietary and sensory factors, mood, emotion and stress on food choice. The project will both improve the health status of the European population through its impact on public health policy, and will generate opportunity for the economic benefits of developing new approaches to healthy eating.
Impact is anticipated in the following areas:
- strengthening European research capacity through research collaboration and dissemination.
- provision of an evidence base for public health policy.
- improvements in research methodology.
- facilitation of interdisciplinary research, including with other EU projects.
The public website of the project can be found at www.nudge-it.eu

List of Websites:
www.nudge-it.eu

Contact

Angela Noble, (Senior European Funding Advisor)
Tel.: +44 131 650 9024
E-mail
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