An Interdisciplinary Study of Eating Behavior in Twins

PI: Ellen Schur
Project Number: 1K23DK070826
Project Dates: 6/15/2005-5/31/2010

This K23 award will allow Dr. Schur to become an independent investigator proficient in the design and conduct of interdisciplinary research on eating behavior and weight regulation. The training and research activities focus on complex environmental and genetic influences on eating habits and appetite regulation. The application proposes an intensive, 5-year program of mentored research and formal training activities to enhance Dr. Schur’s skills and experience in: 1) clinical research methods and biostatistics, 2) eating behavior research, 3) physiology of appetite-regulation hormones and 4) twin research methods. In the long term, Dr. Schur will apply these skills to study the development and prevention of obesity.

The research component of this career development award targets an aspect of abnormal eating behavior that has been described primarily as a psychological phenomenon. Restrained eaters are chronic dieters, some of whom are also prone to overeating. In experimental conditions, restrained eaters overeat after a high-calorie preload, such as a milkshake, whereas unrestrained eaters do not. This has been presumed to be a purely psychological effect, but physiological and genetic factors have not been investigated.

Using the population-based University of Washington Twin Registry, the specific aims are to: 1) establish the genetic vs. environmental influences of restrained eating, 2) investigate the role of appetite-regulating hormones in the abnormal eating behaviors of restrained eaters and 3) compare brain activation in response to a high-calorie preload between restrained and unrestrained eaters. Specific Aim 1 will be addressed with a classical twin study and Specific Aims 2 and 3 will use with a co-twin control design. This project will establish a pathway for Dr. Schur’s future investigations and hopefully benefit clinicians and researchers seeking to understand overeating behavior. The University of Washington is an exceptional environment for Dr. Schur to gain the skills needed to achieve her goals. The training component uses academic resources including the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition and Department of Radiology. Dr. Schur’s sponsor and mentors are highly regarded and respected scientists. Her research also will benefit from access to NIH-funded research centers such as the General Clinical Research Center.