My research focuses on a specific hormone which increases when humans or other animals eat less than they would eat by choice (about 30% less). It has been found that when this hormone is increased in the blood people tend to be healthier and less diabetic. The opposite is also true, that the hormone is reduced in the blood in diabetic and obese people. My research aims to work out how/if this hormone helps to make us healthier. In the future it might be possible to use drugs to influence the levels of these hormones and help to make people healthier without having to eat less.
I do not think my research will reduce obesity in the short term but it will hopefully help us understand more of what happens in obesity which will hopefully be translated into potential treatments or preventative measures in the future. As a scientist we are quite modest and don’t want to fantasise or glorify our findings, nearly every week the media pick up on scientific findings and make them sound like a cure when really they are interesting and potentially ground breaking findings but are years, if not decades away from cures.
Personally, my own research is not necessarily related to obesity. But I am involved in research trying to understanding healthy living more generally. I’ll give you my response about the field of behavioural science as a whole though.
I think we are getting better at finding helpful ways for people to lose weight. For example, we now know that ‘tips and tricks’ like eating from smaller plates, keeping to a meal routine and monitoring what you eat (e.g. keeping a food diary) can be effective means of losing weight. An evidence-based leaflet used in GP settings and developed by my colleagues can be found here: http://www.shape-up.org/weightcon/TTT%20leaflet.pdf
So our field is slowly starting to produce evidence-based ways of losing weight. But it’s important to remember that we’re always fighting against an environmental force that is incredibly strong. What I mean by this is people are exposed to something we call an ‘obesogenic’ environment – an environment that encourages weight gain rather than weight loss. Trying to help people cope in this environment (e.g. avoid those fast food shops, not pick up crisps at the supermarket!) is an important part of what we do. But it’s very difficult to compete when the food and drink industry are powerful and have an interest in selling unhealthy products to us!