The term ‘food addiction’ (FA) has been popularised and commonly used to describe an abnormal pattern of excessive consumption (1-3). 

Although there is an increasing amount of scientific literature in the area of FA, there is yet to be consensus that FA is a clinical disorder (3, 4). My PhD explores whether FA could exist in the Australian population and whether it can be validated using quantifiable measures. The majority of FA research to date have arisen from prominent international research groups in the United States and Canada. My supervisor, Dr Tracy Burrows has initiated working collaborations with Ashley Gearhardt at Michigan University (5) which I intend to visit as part of the Jennie Thomas travel award.

Specifically, I will visit the institutions of three prominent FA researchers at three world-class universities:
1. Assistant Professor Ashley Gearhardt, Michigan University, USA
2. Professor Nicole Avena, Mount Sanai Medical School, New York, USA
3. Professor Caroline Davis, York University, Canada.

Primary travel site: Michigan University, Ann Arbor, USA. 14 days. A/Prof Ashley Gearhardt is a clinical psychologist and the proposed use of the travel funds would be to conduct training as a student researcher at the Food and Addiction Science and Treatment lab (FASTlab, FASTlab is a targeted simulated fast food restaurant (e.g. cooking equipment, menu boards, and aroma technology) that uses ecological momentary assessment (EMA) (6) to measure addictive-like eating behaviours in a realistic real-time environment (7, 8) (Please refer to Appendix 1). FASTlab uses a neuroimaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), eye-tracking and development of tools to assess addictive eating tendencies. The subsequent components of my PhD will be using cutting edge technology that have rarely been applied to the nutrition domain including eye tracking and fMRI. The  opportunity to work at FASTlab would provide access and beneficial training to these and their application to eating behaviour. This training would be directly applicable to my research in Australia. Additionally, this would inform an equipment grant for eye-tracking technology and lead to establishing eating behaviour research using eye-tracking at the UoN. As FA research is in its infancy in Australia, it would also be valuable to observe how such prestigious and well established international sites are assessing FA. Experience in undertaking EMA would be also valuable and transferrable to nutrition research to minimise recall bias and facilitate study of eating behaviour in real-world contexts (6).

During my time at the Michigan University, Ashley has offered the possible opportunity to visit other laboratories at her institution exploring addiction and eating behaviour in the areas of neuroscience and biopsychology coordinated by Prof Kent Berridge and Prof Terry Robinson and paediatrics coordinated by A/Prof Julie Lumeng and A/Prof Allison Miller. Visiting and training at the University of Michigan would consolidate existing collaborations with Gearhardt and facilitate future research together.

Secondary travel site: Mount Sinai Medical School, New York City, USA. 5 days. Nicole Avena is a Professor in neuroscience who has used animal models to explore the concept of FA (9, 10). During my visit to Mount Sinai, I will be undertaking observational experience regarding the assessment of FA in human and animal models. Forming this collaboration with Avena would be very beneficial to my research, giving me an in depth understanding of the neurobiological and physiological aspects of addictive food behaviours.

Secondary travel site: York University, Toronto, Canada. 5 days. Caroline Davis is a Professor researching psychobiological factors of eating behaviour. Davis has co-authored numerous publications regarding the association of FA with other eating disorders as well as using qualitative data.


Ms Kirrilly Pursey 

Research Area 
Project type 
Travel Grant
Year of funding