Eating behavior and body weight are determined by multiple factors including genetics and environment, which interact in different ways defining our food choice and their long-term consequences. Therefore a profound knowledge of factors influencing food choice becomes more and more relevant as it can serve as a guideline to develop treatment strategies to stop the obesity epidemic in western societies.
Some individuals struggle to restrict themselves from eating unhealthy (junk) food and to keep their body weight within a healthy range. This can be linked to alterations in decision making, which is a typical characteristic of several diseases including impulsivity-linked disorders. Impulsive people tend to act prematurely, without foresight, despite negative consequences. It puts them at risk of substance abuse, compulsive gambling and eating disorders. In the context of food selection people who are more impulsive are less efficient at stopping themselves when they are tempted to eat something that they like even when they are aware of the negative consequences.
We know that stable traits like impulsivity influence food intake, but the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. In Nudge-it, we want to study whether appetite hormones play a role in the impulsive choice towards food intake and also in the development of habits that are preferences created during the past and often already during childhood. Once youthful habits are developed they can determine our life-long food preference and food choice. Habits are automatic responses that are difficult to control, e.g. if we are used to eat popcorn while watching a movie in the cinema during our childhood, we will presumably do this in the future too, as it became an automatic process even if we do not really want to eat it.
The tests for studying decision making can be well translated between species and the implementation of tests of repetitive habits and inhibitory control failure in animals has greatly improved our understanding of the etiology, pathophysiology and finally the treatment of different disorders linked to impulsivity. In Nudge-it, we will use these tools in translational models to study how specific hormones can influence our food choice and our habits in the short term to explain the body weight increase in the long term.