Liverpool Obesity Research Network (LORN)

Health, Nutrition and Behaviour

Research into the environmental and psychological factors that contribute to the development of obesity is conducted within the School of Population, Community and Behavioural Sciences and the School of Psychology. Topics of interest include rapid infant weight gain (RIWG), infant feeding practices (breast feeding and maternal diet), food promotion (television food advertisements, internet and viral marketing, and product branding), food poverty and nutrition, prevention of diet related disease (intervention studies and community programmes) cognitive factors (dietary restraint, impulsivity, attentional bias, mood and stress) and the development of food likes and dislikes in children (feeding practices, parental factors, food neophobia). This research is detailed in the sections below:

Epidemiology of obesity

Dr Peter Bundred and colleagues have conducted extensive research into the epidemiology of common childhood conditions including obesity, with a focus on infant growth, diet and feeding practices.

They have conducted long term research into social deprivation and neonatal care, and there is also an on-going study of the prevalence of obesity and overweight in children from birth to the age of three years. They have collected height and weight data for the majority of infants born in the Wirral over the last 16 years, focusing particularly on infant feeding practices and the phenomenon of rapid infant weight gain (clearly seen in his large community-based sample).

In addition to being the first to clearly demonstrate rapid infant weight gain in a contemporary UK sample, Dr Bundred has demonstrated a rapid rise in BMI in taller infants in data taken from various serial UK cross sectional studies.  Working with a research group at the University of Manchester, Dr Bundred is one of the grant holders on a £900K ESRC grant. His interests also include obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, including preventative cardiology. Epidemiological aspects of diabetes mellitus.

Current research projects include:

Dr Bundred is a grant holder on a £900K ESRC grant entitled “Obesity lab:  infrastructure for interdisciplinary collaborative research into obesity”.

The effects of food promotion on food choice and diet

Dr Jason Halford and colleagues (Appetite and Obesity Research Group) have conducted numerous studies investigating the impact of television food advertising on food preferences, food choice and actual intake in school age children.

Since 2004, this series of studies have demonstrated that the advertising of high fat, high sugar foods on UK commercial television increases preference for and promotes intake of unhealthy foods, an effect that appears to be more pronounced in overweight and obese children.  Data have been collected from over 500 children aged 5-11, and have contributed to the national debate on the role of food advertising in obesity as part of Baroness Thornton’s ‘Advertising of Food on Television’ Bill to the House of Lords.

Current projects include:

  • An international collaborative study to investigate the levels and types of food advertising on the commercial television channels most watched by children and adolescents in a range of European countries, the US and Australia.
  • A year-long investigation of food advertising on popular UK channels to assess the impact of recent Ofcom regulations regarding advertising to young people.
  • An investigation of the influence of product branding and awareness of brand equity characters on food preferences and food choice in children.

Public health and community interventions

Research in Liverpool focuses on the role of public health in tackling obesity, food poverty and nutrition inequalities, the lay involvement in efforts to reduce nutrition inequalities, and the evaluation of population-based nutrition prevention programs.

Dr Kennedy and colleagues () have developed research expertise in the area of population health and nutrition, in particular studies aimed at the prevention of diet-related disease and the promotion of health and wellbeing. They have developed, implemented and evaluated a community-based nutrition education program targeting low-income mothers and children to examine the social, cultural and environmental determinants of food choice amongst children and families living in socially deprived communities.

Dr Kennedy’s work in diet-related prevention has focused on the involvement of para-professional or lay helpers in community programs. She has also been involved in a European-wide multi-centre study examining the development and implementation of community-wide health promotion interventions to promote healthy eating in socially deprived communities in six European cities (SUPER project).

Current projects include:

Dr Kennedy is currently co-investigator on a MRC (NPRI) 2-year feasibility study into conducting a Randomised Controlled Trial recruiting and training Lay Health Trainers to promote fruit and vegetable consumption to families living in socially deprived areas of Merseyside. 

Heart of Mersey Programme

Dr Ffion Lloyd-Williams is a Research Fellow in the Division of Public Health and Research Programme Manager for the Heart of Mersey Cardiovascular Disease Population Based Primary Prevention Programme.  Dr Lloyd-Williams and colleagues () have developed research expertise in the area of population health and cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention, in particular studies aimed at the prevention of CVD via dietary interventions and the promotion of health and wellbeing at the population level. They are currently exploring nutrition in terms of policy and practice in local pre-school day care settings in order to develop a package of interventions which will promote healthy eating in Liverpool across deprived communities. 

 A key aspect of the Heart of Mersey programme is working at the local, regional, national and international level to gather evidence, advocating for change and influencing policymakers. For example, a reduction in levels of saturated fat, salt and sugar in foods produced in the UK and a ban on trans fats; the universal adoption of the traffic light food labelling system; and a total ban on unhealthy TV food adverts before the 9pm watershed.

Dr Ffion Lloyd- Williams’ current projects include:

Principal investigator on a MerseyBEAT 1-year study to explore nutrition in local pre-school day care settings in order to develop a package of interventions which will promote healthy eating in Liverpool across deprived communities. 

Co-investigator on MRC (NPRI)  3 year study to develop and evaluate economic models for planning optimal cardiovascular prevention strategies.

Co-investigator on a MRC (NPRI) 2 year feasibility study into conducting a Randomised Controlled Trial recruiting and training Lay Health Trainers to promote fruit and vegetable consumption to families living in socially deprived areas of Merseyside. 

Co-investigator on a MRC 3 year study to develop the IMPACT coronary heart disease (CHD) decision support system:  a “user friendly” way to help explain CHD trends in diverse populations. For instance, comparing the advantages and costs of new treatments and new prevention approaches (e.g. healthier school meals)

Co-investigator on a MerseyBEAT  1 year study to explore the relationships between scientific research and decision-making, using cardiovascular disease as a case study, specifically to reduce inequalities, in order to inform evidence-based planning.

Obesity: Psychological Factors

A variety of projects on the psychology aspects of obesity (Appetite and Obesity Research Group) are conducted within LORN. 

  • Research conducted by Drs Goudie, Field and Cole has focused on the role of impulsivity and cognitive processes in eating behaviour and their relationship to body weight and composition. 
  • Research led by Drs Harrold and Field is currently examining the relationship between attentional bias and food intake. 
  • Drs Harrold and Halford are currently examining developmental determinates of food choice in children.
  • Recent research by Dr Dovey has focused on stress-induced feeding in restrained eaters.

Current projects include:

  • The examination of breast feeding as a predictor of infant food preferences in post weaning (Dr Harrold).
  • The impact of geographic and cultural factors on food neophobia and its consequences for food choice (Dr Dovey).