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University of Edinburgh

Understanding Obesity

University of Edinburgh via Coursera


In this course, we’ll look at the facts and misconceptions around obesity and discuss key physiological and psychological concepts around the brain’s control of appetite and body weight. We’ll consider the biological and environmental pressures that make it easy to gain weight (and hard to lose it!). Most importantly, we'll give you the opportunity to reflect on your own knowledge and assumptions around the subject. We deliver course materials as a mixture of videos, audio-only MOOCcasts, and a selection of short readings. There are short weekly quizzes, a peer-reviewed exercise, and discussion activities on the forum. These will help you prepare for the final project. In it, you are invited to demonstrate your evidence-informed understanding and express how you'll develop it beyond the course. The course features Citizen Science projects. We'll collect data from you (anonymously, of course) and use it to drive participant-led discussions of controversial ideas. In this way, we hope to explore ideas around diet and obesity. These projects also give a taste of how scientific evidence is collected and interpreted by scientists, and give some indication how much there still is to discover and understand.


  • Week 1: What we know, and how we know it.
    • This week we'll discuss what we know about diet, appetite and obesity. But, and perhaps more importantly, we'll point out the gaps in our knowledge.
  • Physiology and Stress
    • This week we discuss some aspects of the physiology of obesity and learn how so-called "food addiction", stress and early-life experience can affect our eating choices. Included is an optional assignment where you can explore barriers to healthy eating. This assignment is not graded but does use the same interface as the Week 4 assessment. As such, you may find it useful to use it as practice for the "real thing".
  • Psychology and Behaviour
    • This week we discuss some aspects of the psychology of appetite control and learn how portion sizes and food insecurity might affect our behaviours.
  • Consolidation and Discussion
    • This week online material will be posted ad hoc as we consolidate and discuss what we've already learned. This week's main tasks are a quiz on the scientific method and the peer-reviewed assignment. Please note you can attempt the Week 4 quiz only once.

Taught by

Dr John Menzies


5.0 rating, based on 1 Class Central review

4.6 rating at Coursera based on 746 ratings

Start your review of Understanding Obesity

  • This short but sweet introductory course made me realize the nature of the global obesity problem as a full-on systems problem. Having this characteristic, discrete, reductionist and cookie-cutter approaches (e.g., reliance to blanket recommendations of "increased physical activity" and "reduce caloric intake") are most likely doomed to fail. The eye-opening material emphasized subtle forces that give this global health issue multiple levels of complexity - portion sizes, container sizes, peer pressure, correlates of socioeconomic status, potential neurobiological underpinnings, etc. I highly recommend this course to both casual and professional learners alike.

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