Professor JULIAN MERCER

Professor JULIAN MERCER

Personal Professor

Overview

Contact Details

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Research

Research Interests

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.

Current Research

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.

Research Grants

NeuroFAST  - NeuroFAST (http://www.neurofast.eu/) 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. See
http://www.full4health.eu/ for more details.
 
SATIN - ‘Satiety innovation’ (
http://www.satin-satiety.eu/) 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.

Further Info

External Responsibilities

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. 

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Admin Responsibilities

Julian is lead for Theme 3 (‘Food, Health and Wellbeing’) of the Scottish Government Rural Affairs, Food and Environment Portfolio, Strategic Research Programme (April 2016 – March 2021).

Publications

Publications 

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