Energy balance, food choice and nutrition education in obesity prevention and management

Investigating the factors that affect the amount and type of food that an individual consumes.


The increased prevalence of obesity among children and adults is a global public health challenge and the associated medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancers are placing strain on an already-challenged healthcare system.

Understanding the key biological and environmental factors that impact on an individual’s weight status is vital in facilitating the prevention and treatment of obesity. The central factor in obesity development is a sustained positive energy imbalance i.e. the energy consumed from food is greater than the energy expended in physical activity. However, the key factors influencing energy intake and expenditure are complex and interlinked.

Past and present studies within the Obesity research group utilize a wide range of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies within the Centre for Molecular Biosciences at NICHE. The unique Human Intervention Studies Unit (HISU) includes state-of-the-art body composition facilities including BOD POD, Dual energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) and gold standard indirect calorimetry techniques for measuring resting metabolic rate. The HISU also houses 10 volunteer ensuite bedrooms to facilitate residential research studies and has a fully equipped volunteer kitchen and dining area. An example of our research to date includes the impact of food portion size on food and energy intake over a 4-day period. This work showed that individuals exposed to larger compared to standard food portions, consumed a greater energy intake and gained weight over this short timeframe despite no reported change in satiety. Our latest related research aims to trial the use of a simple household tool to help adults and children estimate appropriate food portion size in the home setting. A further current project aims to identify whether long-term weight loss from gastric bypass or bariatric surgery is due to changes in appetite and food choices, and/or if it is associated with changes in metabolic rate following surgery. This project forms part of a US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership Programme and involves full observation of gastric bypass patients before and after surgery. The wider impact of this work includes advancement of the treatment of obese patients in the UK, Ireland and beyond.

Key research areas currently under investigation within the Obesity research group:

  • Weight gain recommendations in pregnancy
  • Maternal obesity and associated vitamin D status
  • Body composition and bone health in postmenopausal women
  • Development of innovative approaches to weight management
  • Novel biomarker approaches to assessing intakes of low-calorie sweeteners
  • Meal consumption patterns and timing; effects on diet quality
  • Food and nutrition labelling and food choice
  • Dietary assessment strategies and misreporting
  • Physical activity and lifestyle interventions in schools
  • Identification of risk factors for obesity

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