Esther Aarts has been awarded a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). She is a cognitive neuroscientist and investigates the relationship between obesity and decision making. ERC Starting Grants are intended to help young researchers set up their own research group. Each grant is worth up to 1.5€ million euros.
Aarts will investigate effort and reward processes in the brain of individuals with obesity. Obesity is a major threat to human health. Obesity is often characterized by reductions in effortful behaviour, such as reduced physical exercise and increased consumption of high-calorie convenience foods. A better understanding of effort-related motivation in obesity is important to explain why healthy lifestyle changes are often so hard to maintain. However, in obesity, research findings about the motivation to overcome effort costs are inconsistent.
An explaining factor might be related to inflammation, as excess body fat can increase systemic, low-grade inflammation levels in susceptible individuals. Such elevated peripheral inflammatory tone can affect the brain dopamine system to decrease effortful behaviour. Cognitive neuroscientist Esther Aarts will investigate how an elevated inflammatory tone in obesity relates to effort-based decision making and how it might enforce the downward spiral of obesity. Studying the inflammation-effort link in obese individuals will help in de-stigmatizing obesity and in finding treatment options to face the obesity challenge.