Maintaining Health Resolutions
HHS experts offer advice on staying the course for your New Year's goals.

Kelsie Forbush

Kelsie Forbush studies the links between eating, mood and anxiety disorders. (Photo by Mark Simons)

Biggest losers: Know thyself and the environment

Proper nutrition is part and parcel of any good weight loss program. For some 50 faculty researchers in Purdue's Ingestive Behavior Research Center (IBRC), a particular focus on the problem of obesity in America is not only a matter of monitoring energy consumption, but a broader assessment of the many influences on ingestive behavior. Formed in 2005 and now part of Purdue's Discovery Park, IBRC brings together faculty and graduate students from all over campus, with a heavy dose of HHS researchers.

As for the great debate on how best to shed pounds, Richard Mattes says there are no simple answers, in spite of the many advertised claims for quick fixes. "Each individual who is overweight has their own unique set of environmental and physiological conditions and challenges that led them to their current weight," says Mattes, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition Science and IBRC director. "Consequently, there is no single solution to the problem. Remedies must be individualized."

Mattes says IBRC researchers are addressing many facets of the problem including work on both the cognitive, sensory, metabolic, neural and endocrine influences on appetite, food choice and energy balance, as well as how food properties influence biological processes and behaviors. Work is conducted in animal models and humans.

Kelsie Forbush, assistant professor of psychological sciences, is an IBRC researcher studying the links between eating, mood and anxiety disorders in men and women. She says there are a number of psychological hurdles to overcome when losing weight, but the environmental pull can be just as strong.

"There are highly palatable foods everywhere in our society and food-related cues, such as television commercials, constantly bombard us with images of delicious-looking food," Forbush says. "When someone is trying to reduce their dietary intake, these messages can be difficult to ignore and lead to overindulgence."

Simply being more aware of what's in food can help you make better decisions about what you eat. Several researchers from the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management are looking at nutrition-related information, such as labeling, to see how it affects customer perceptions and behaviors. Barbara Almanza, professor and director of graduate studies; Carl Behnke, assistant professor; Doug Nelson, associate professor; and Hugo Tang, assistant professor, are leading that collaborative work with graduate students.

"The idea behind our research is that greater consumer awareness of the nutrition content through labeling in restaurants will result in more healthy choices by consumers," Almanza says. "The practical implication is that with greater transparency regarding the nutrition content and the resulting increase in healthy choices, restaurants will have a strong financial incentive to produce even more items that are healthy choices, either by reformulating their entrees, resizing them, or offering new choices."

Behnke's expertise is more focused on restaurant operations. "From that perspective, I encourage people to look at portion sizes, perhaps splitting a meal with someone else, more so than denying themselves their favorite dish," he says.


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