Professor Julian Mercer
Rowett Institute, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD
- PhD Parasitology1984 - University of Aberdeen
- BA Biology1978 - University of York
Memberships and Affiliations
- Internal Memberships
Julian is lead for Theme 3 (‘Food, Health and Wellbeing’) of the Scottish Government funded (Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services; RESAS) Strategic Research Programme (April 2016 – March 2022), and a member of the Rowett Institute Executive Committee.
- External Memberships
Julian is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Neuroendocrinology (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1365-2826), the official journal of the British Society for Neuroendocrinology, and in this capacity he is a non-voting member of the Society's Steering Committee.
Supporting beneficial dietary behaviour change
Our existing dietary behaviours represent a major obstacle to achieving current nutrition targets (e.g. Scottish Government Dietary Goals for Scotland; Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). For example, over-consumption of calories is the main cause of overweight and obesity in the human population, and healthier (reduced calorie) alternatives are available to many of the foods and drinks contributing these calories. A major difficulty is that existing dietary behaviours often have habitual components (i.e. they are automatically cued with little or no conscious engagement) having been repeatedly and frequently carried out over extended periods of time. Individuals may also have taste preferences for the less healthy options. Finding effective ways of supporting individuals in establishing new and healthier eating habits, and taste preferences, is crucial. Most preferences are learned over time via repeated exposure. Repeated exposure to the taste of healthier alternatives, in association with specific conditions or contexts, could facilitate the development of habits that then become the default preference.
It is generally accepted that the public health issues around non-communicable disease (e.g. cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension) require a population level shift towards healthier diets that are lower in sugar, fats and calories, and higher in fibre. The latest revision of the Dietary Goals for Scotland (http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0049/00497558.pdf) has seen a halving of the recommended level of free sugar intake as a proportion of total energy intake, and an increase in recommended levels of dietary fibre consumption. The new free sugar goal, if not resulting in compensatory energy intake elsewhere in the diet, should reduce the risk of developing obesity as well as improving dental health.
The objective of supporting the transition to a healthier diet needs to be addressed at a multidisciplinary level across all the relevant sectors – policy, industry, voluntary – as well as at the level of the individual. Consequently, food reformulation by the food and drink industry has a major role to play, and is being addressed elsewhere in the Institute’s Scottish Government-funded research programme. Behaviour change (especially in terms of food consumption) is often advocated as essential for long-term resolution of the overweight and obesity issue in the majority of the population. We need strategies for supporting behaviour change that result in beneficial reductions in caloric intake and a shift towards healthier food choices. This forms the focus of the research being conducted by Julian, Daniel Powell and Jackie Duncan, and funded by the Scottish Government. The research is addressing how habits are established and develop with time, particularly with regard to sugary food and drink, and also aims to provide optimal strategies to support motivated individuals trying to adjust their habitual dietary choices.
The above research is funded by the Scottish Government Rural Affairs, Food and Environment Portfolio, Strategic Research Programme (April 2016 – March 2021). It is entitled 'Flavour exposure and dehabitualisation in adult life' and is located in Research Deliverable 3.2.4 ('Food culture and dietary choice') in Work Package 3.2 ('Healthy diets and dietary choice'), part of Theme 3 ('Food, Health and Wellbeing') of the Strategic Research Programme. Julian is lead contact for Theme 3.
Funding and Grants
NeuroFAST - NeuroFAST was a project on food addiction funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme. Completed March 2015.
Full4Health – Full4Health was a project of food-gut-brain signalling of hunger and satiety funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme, and co-ordinated by Julian. Completed January 2016.
SATIN - ‘Satiety innovation’ was a project aiming to develop new satiety-enhancing food products that can help with energy intake and weight control and is funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme. Completed December 2016.
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Appetite Control Across the Lifecourse: The Acute Impact of Breakfast Drink Quantity and Protein Content. The Full4Health ProjectNutrients, vol. 12, no. 12, 3710Contributions to Journals: Articles
Fat, carbohydrate and protein by oral gavage in the rat can be equally effective for satiationPhysiology and Behavior, vol. 207, pp. 41-47Contributions to Journals: Articles
Editorial: Special Issue of Journal of Neuroendocrinology with peer-reviewed articles from the 9th International Congress of Neuroendocrinology held in Toronto, Canada in July 2018Journal of Neuroendocrinology, vol. 31, no. 5, e12732Contributions to Journals: Editorials
Editorial: Thirty Years of Journal of NeuroendocrinologyJournal of Neuroendocrinology, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. e12704Contributions to Journals: Editorials
A spontaneous binge-like eating model in mice using unpredictable once weekly access to palatable dietsAppetite, vol. 126, pp. 137-146Contributions to Journals: Articles
Body weight loss, effective satiation and absence of homeostatic neuropeptide compensation in male Sprague Dawley rats schedule fed a protein crosslinked dietAppetite, vol. 117, pp. 234-246Contributions to Journals: Articles
Arcuate nucleus homeostatic systems reflect blood leptin concentration but not feeding behaviour during scheduled feeding on a high-fat diet in miceJournal of Neuroendocrinology, vol. 29, no. 8, e12498Contributions to Journals: Articles
Preclinical models for obesity researchDisease Models & Mechanisms, vol. 9, no. 11, pp. 1245-1255Contributions to Journals: Articles
Neuroendocrinology of appetiteWiley. 296 pagesBooks and Reports: Books
Full4Health: Understanding food-gut-brain mechanisms across the lifespan in the regulation of hunger and satiety for healthNutrition Bulletin, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 87-91Contributions to Journals: Articles