New Investigators United: Spotlight on Catherine Gibbons

Catherine Gibbons is an exercise physiologist, and is particularly interested in exercise, physical activity and sedentary behaviour in the control of appetite and obesity. Her 2013 PhD dissertation, is entitled ‘Tonic and Episodic Peptides and Appetite Control in Response to Nutrients and Exercise in Obese Adults’. Since then she has held Research Fellow and Senior Research Fellow positions working on large-scale exercise research projects using a psychobiological systems approach in order to investigate exercise-induced compensatory eating.

Catherine Gibbons
Catherine Gibbons

I was an active and relatively academic child, with a healthy obsession with most sports. This led to my interest in Sports and Exercise Science which I studied for an undergraduate degree at Loughborough University. I went on to complete my Masters in Sport and Exercise Nutrition at Loughborough University before moving into a full time research position at the University of Leeds in 2008. I completed my PhD in 2013 and have been employed as a research fellow and senior research fellow to date. My particular interest in exercise and appetite control began during my undergraduate project where I assisted on a research project looking at the acute effect of exercise modality (cycling versus running) on gut peptides, appetite and energy intake. At this time, we worked with normal weight individuals but I became aware of similar work being done with overweight and obese populations, and the wider implications of the topic. That is where my interest really started to peak and I started to seek out opportunities in this area and therefore moved to work with Professor John Blundell and Dr Graham Finlayson at University of Leeds. I am an exercise physiologist by background and did my PhD on the role of exercise and gut peptides in appetite control. My ongoing work focusses on investigating the role of sedentary behaviour and physical activity in the control of appetite and energy balance.

In Leeds, I am part of the ‘Appetite Control and Energy Balance’ Research Group (Appetite Control & Energy Balance Group). The theoretical basis for my research asserts that understanding the mechanisms involved in energy intake and energy expenditure (i.e. human appetite and physical (in)activity) is paramount for successful action to treat and prevent obesity (through intervention and policy). I believe the integration of different types of expertise is essential in research on the multi-faceted issue of obesity, and in the integration of appetite and physical activity research. The blend of physiological expertise (e.g. body composition analysis, indirect calorimetry, peptide biomarkers, exercise physiology) is a perfect complement to the behavioural and psychological know-how established in Leeds.

I am currently involved in a number of research projects – EU FP7 projects ‘Full4Health’, ‘SATIN (Satiety Innovation)’ and I am Principal Investigator for DAPHNE (Data as a service platform for healthy lifestyle and preventive medicine)’. In addition, I am involved in industry funded projects on the effectiveness and mechanisms of new anti-diabetic drug treatments. I work collaboratively across these EU projects and also have collaborations with research groups in Australia and United States. To date I have authored and co-authored more than 30 peer reviewed publications, won 5 awards and, since 2013, I have been granted more than £650,000 research funding as Principal Investigator.

I believe the integration of different types of expertise is essential in research on the multi-faceted issue of obesity

Being on the NIU board is the second committee position (outside of the university) I have been involved in – the first was as a Student Representative for Physical Activity for Health theme within the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). The major action points for the NIU this year have been to increase the involvement of NIU on social media including the NIU Facebook page and New Investigators United Twitter feed @EASOresearch, and organising the programme and speakers for the 2016 NIU Summer School.

The aim of the Summer School programme is to give a broad view of obesity. The session is intended for students/ researchers who are new to the area, or have in-depth knowledge of one topic but are interested in developing a broader perspective on obesity. We have also added new programme themes vital for training young researchers/clinicians, including research grants/proposal writing and strategies to get impact from your work. Furthermore, delegates will have an   opportunity to present their own work and get feedback from both peers and the renowned speakers who will be present. There is no other arena like this for new obesity researchers to learn and have substantial interaction with such a broad range of distinguished professionals in Europe.

My future career plans are to become a strong independent academic. I have recently been appointed a permanent member of academic staff and will thus be able to engage in more research-led teaching alongside continuing to build a reputation as a strong researcher in the area of physical (in)activity and energy balance.

I currently live in Leeds, in the north of England but I’m originally from Manchester – both are often cold, wet and grey, but on those scarce clear spring days we have some of the best countryside to  explore! These two cities are about 1 hour apart and both are 3-4 hours from London and are well connected with very good airports and train routes. I was an extremely active child, always running – never walking – and I wanted to try every possible sport/activity. I tended to favour team sports over individual sports, but also just enjoyed exercise and continue to do so to this day. I still play Gaelic football and tag rugby, though more for the social aspects than a level of competition these days! I spend lots of time at the gym, where I do a variety of aerobic and resistance training 6-8 times per week.

Do we need more research on obesogenic environments?

The EU-funded SPOTLIGHT project and the World Obesity Federation are hosting a one-day meeting in Brussels on the future of research on obesogenic environments.  There is no charge to attend the meeting but spaces are limited.

Spotlight November 19 programme (PDF)

More information and registration details can be viewed online and more information about the SPOTLIGHT project is available on their website.

EASO Patient Council: November 2014

Spotlight on Ken Clare

Ken, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I am 53 years old, and after a lifelong struggle with obesity I am still morbidly obese.

As far back as I can remember, weight has been an issue. My mother was obese and was always dieting. Worrying about my weight, she encouraged me to try to diet, though in the sixties I don’t think we were as enlightened as we are now.

I hated physical activity at school and felt shy and embarrassed about my body in an all-boys school. People gave me verbal abuse and bullied me

because of my weight. I don’t know about other countries in Europe, but men in the UK are usually reluctant to discuss their health or weight with one   other, which only heightened my isolation.

I left school as soon as I could and went to college to study to become a nurse. At 18 I went away to work and it was suggested that I work in mental health, as my large frame and height would be an asset.

My weight continued to increase I was promoted to a job that required less physical activity, but my food intake stayed the same or increased. I married, lost weight then gained it again in 12 months. My wife and I had a daughter who is now 24 years old. My weight just continued to rise. My doctor never mentioned this. I stopped using the scales when I was too heavy for my weight to be recorded. I was struggling with my mobility; had severe joint pains and could only walk for about 75metres.

Approaching the age of 40 in the year 2000, I decided to do something about this myself. At this time my weight was approximately 200kg. I was referred to a specialist weight management clinic. It was here for the first time I felt listened to and helped. This was a major turning point for me.

I jumped right into this course though I was the only man participating. I took part in physical activity. I went for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. All this enthusiasm was unusual for me. I tried Orlistat, but the other two drugs available at the time were unsuitable for me.

At the end of two years I was referred to a surgeon and I underwent a gastric bypass. The effects were dramatic. In 12 months I lost 100kg. My mobility had improved and I was able to work out in the gym and even take part in 5K races.

Shortly after my operation I set up a charity (not for profit) called WLSinfo

This has not been an easy journey but my life is 1000% better than it was. I have experienced a rocky road to my recovery; along the way I was diagnosed with bipolar, alcohol problems and a brain haemorrhage. But I am here and I am doing well today.

Just recently, I have been fortunate to be involved with another charity which obtained funding from our National Lottery, and we are running short courses for people who have had bariatric surgery to help them achieve better outcomes.

In the last 12 months I have been involved as a patient member on a national group looking at obesity treatment policies. It has been an interesting experience. I have learnt a lot about health economics.

I continue to be a qualified nurse and that helps me get involved with obesity and its treatment. I have attended the European Association for the Study of Obesity annual Congresses in both Liverpool and Sofia, where it was great to meet like minded people from across Europe. I hope we get further opportunities to meet and achieve more together through the Patient Council.

I love the internet and gadgets. I am an early adopter of new technology and I especially love Apple products. I am a keen photographer – you can see some of my pictures on my Facebook page

Where do you live?

I live in Liverpool, a large port city on the River Mersey in the North West of England. Most famous for the Beatles, we also have two football clubs, Liverpool and Everton. If anyone comes to visit, do let me know I will give you the tour.

Please tell us how you currently advocate for patients and hope to support people who experience obesity in the future. Do you have advice to share?

We are fortunate enough to have a National Health Service which is free for for all at the point of access and time of need. It is clear, however, that there are financially difficult times ahead and I have concerns obesity will be an area where cuts are made.

My advice is to be persistent – if a door is closed in your face – keep pushing. I believe unity and patient power are powerful forces that clinicians and politicians will find it hard to resist.