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Nudge-it: Understanding obesity

University of Edinburgh via Coursera

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Obesity is a huge health, social and economic problem affecting millions of people globally. Currently, it’s a problem without a solution - dieting is difficult, drug therapies are poor, and surgical solutions are only offered to those suffering serious ill-health. In addition, there are many common misconceptions about appetite, diet and exercise, and about the best ways to treat or prevent obesity.

This course is taught by partners in the EU-funded research project Nudge-it. This project brings together dozens of experts in neurobiology, psychology and behavioural economics from universities in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, the US and New Zealand. The project's overall aim is to better understand decision-making in food choice and to contribute to improving public health policy.

In this course we discuss the facts and misconceptions around obesity, and the gaps in the scientific knowledge. We discuss key physiological and psychological concepts around the brain’s control of appetite and body weight, and reflect on the power of these systems - how they make weight gain easy and weight loss hard. We describe new approaches to the treatment and prevention of obesity, and give you the opportunity to reflect on your own knowledge and assumptions around the causes of obesity.

If you’re on Twitter, tell us why you are taking the course – use the hashtag #nudgeitmooc

Visit the project website at

We're on Twitter: @nudgeit_


  • Week 1: Evidence. The major aim of this course is to explore the evidence base for obesity science - what we know and what we don’t know. We'll highlight how the evidence sometimes contradicts commonly-held beliefs. 
  • Week 2: Physiology. Exploring the neurobiological and hormonal control of appetite. How the environment interacts with our physiology to influence food choice.
  • Week 3: Psychology. The psychological control of appetite. How cognition influences food choice.
  • Week 4: Stress. How early-life experience influences food choice in later life. Stress and emotional eating.
  • Week 5: Economics. How behavioural economics may deliver new ways of changing choice behaviour. Food insecurity and health inequities.

EU logo and statement. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement n*607310

Taught by

John Menzies and


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