UGent Unit “Nutrition and Food Safety”:
New focus on stress and emotion
The unit ‘Nutrition and Food Safety’ was launched as an independent unit within the Department of Public Health in 1998, with the major aim to promote the importance of diet as a major determinant of public health. Currently three main research niches can be distinguished. Nutritional research on diverse food-related aspects (nutrients, dietary pattern, eating behavior, social/environmental aspects like stress) and their impact on public health (obesity, cardiovascular, bone health). Food safety research is mainly focused on chemical food safety in relation to environment (e.g. heavy metals in fish, mycotoxines) and food-technology (e.g. additives, phthalates). Methodological research to support both pillars of nutritional research and food safety research, including dietary assessment, measurement of body composition, probabilistic techniques for exposure assessment and feasibility testing of objective stress measures in children. Over the past ten years, the unit has been involved in 11 EU projects and more than double the amount national/university funded projects. An increasing amount of interest and expertise on stress and emotions has been developed. Since 2007, three PhD’s in this stress-obesity field have been finalized and another two PhD’s are ongoing, with already a total of 22 A1 publications. After a cross-sectional study in adolescents, a longitudinal study was initiated in primary school children (ChiBS study). This cohort was measured in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015 where stress was explored by questionnaires, cortisol values and heart rate variability. The initial hypothesis was that stress might increase adiposity by increasing cortisol values and by deteriorated diet (diet choice and emotional eating) and physical activity. Over the years, also adipocytokines, reward sensitivity and telomere length were included in the hypotheses. In the next 3 years, a postdoctoral research plan on the role of inflammation and gut microbiota in this stress-obesity relation will be executed. Apart from using the existing cohort, also paediatric patients with depression and/or obesity will be recruited and interventions are planned.
Nathalie Michels is a Postdoc researcher in Public Health at Ghent University in Belgium
Talk organized by the PSYFOOD UCL-ULB joint research group
(Promotors: Axel Cleeremans, Olivier Corneille, Olivier Klein, Olivier Luminet, Stephan Van den Broucke)