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Sanford Health, NDSU Receive Grant for Eating Study
North Dakota Ag Connection - 11/24/2021

Sanford Health, in partnership with North Dakota State University, recently received a $2.8 million research grant from National Institutes of Health to study the impact of the gut microbiome on stress-related eating in the natural environment in individuals with obesity.

Scott Engel, of Sanford Health Center for Biobehavioral Research, and Kristine Steffen, professor of pharmaceutical sciences, co-lead the award. The goal of the four-year NIH R01 grant is to evaluate the impact of stress and the gut microbiome on eating and the risk for obesity development.

"There is a strong body of literature that demonstrates the relationship between stress and eating in individuals with obesity," Engel said. "Rather than looking at this relationship exclusively in the laboratory, we are collecting data from our participants during their everyday lives. Further, we plan to examine how rewarding a particular food is and its impact on the stress-eating relationship."

"Recent data has shown that the bacteria in the gut (the microbiome) influences stress and we can measure a person's response to stress through cortisol levels in the blood," Steffen said. "We will investigate how much a person's specific intestinal bacterial makeup influences the cortisol response they have to a stressor in the laboratory. Individuals with specific bacterial compositions and high levels of stress may be at risk for less healthy eating patterns that predispose them to obesity."

Engel and his lab at Sanford Health and Steffen and her lab at NDSU have spent years studying eating disorders, obesity and bariatric surgery. Earlier this year, Sanford received a COBRE grant from the NIH, where NDSU is also a major partner, to support the development of a comprehensive center of scientific research in eating disorders.

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