Esther AARTS

Nationality Dutch
Year of selection2011
InstitutionStichting Katholieke Universiteit
CountryNetherlands
RiskLife risks

Type of support

Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Granted amount

120 000 €

Duration

2 years

The Power of Food

When there is delicious food in front of you, it can be hard to know when to stop eating. After all, isn’t the brain supposed to tell you when you’re full? So you might reach for another tasty cookie. Dr. Esther Aarts is investigating what type of motivational control is associated with such poor eating habits.
Is our food intake regulated by an automatic response (i.e., I usually eat ten cookies in a row, no matter how full I am), or does it involve taking into account consequences (i.e., maybe only half a cookie would be enough because I am full)? Her research aims to find out if eating beyond satiety can be explained by a stronger habitual (automatic) control and/or a weaker goal-directed (consequence-based) control. Each of these is linked to a specific region of the brain that has dopamine – the substance that regulates motivational control. Obese individuals differ in dopamine levels compared to lean individuals.
In order to see how different dopamine levels in these brain regions distract some, but not others, from healthy eating, Dr. Aarts will scan the brains of individuals with different dopamine levels. In the scanner, these individuals will work for sips of chocolate milk when they are hungry or full, in order to study automatic and consequence-based control. Dr. Aarts will assess whether different activity and connectivity patterns in dopamine-rich brain regions can predict whether an individual will work hard for a chocolate milk reward, even when he or she is no longer hungry.
The expected results could have significant implications in the field of obesity. This is particularly important as the overconsumption of palatable foods, especially those rich in sugar and fat, is considered a major factor contributing to the surge in obesity, which has tripled in Europe since the 1980s. An increasing body weight is often associated with risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and mood disorders.
Therefore, understanding how the power of food can unbalance motivational control in some individuals and not others could potentially lead to tailor-made treatments to fight the direct and indirect effects of being overweight.
When there is delicious food in front of you, it can be hard to know when to stop eating. Dr. Aarts is investigating what type of motivational control is associated with such poor eating habits. She focuses on the role of dopamine – the substance that regulates motivational control.
Understanding how the power of food can unbalance motivational control in some individuals and not others could potentially lead to tailor-made treatments to fight the direct and indirect effects of being overweight.

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