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Appetite Expert and Tenure Track Assistant Professor at AU FOOD: “The complex and multifaceted research field allows me to be constantly curious and follow my passion every day”

Barbara Vad Andersen is a tenure track assistant professor at the Department of Food Science at Aarhus University. Her journey into academia and research was not a predetermined path, but rather a result of her curiosity and engagement with her field. Her research focuses on how human appetite is shaped, and can be shaped to support healthy, sustainable and pleasant eating experiences.

Photo: AU Foto

Barbara Vad Andersen’s academic journey began with her professional bachelor’s degree in Health and Nutrition and master’s in Human Nutrition, during which she was not initially aware of the potential for a career in academia.

However, as she delved deeper into her master’s thesis and research, she began to see the possibilities in a research career.

“I think I have always had the curiosity and motivation, which are driving forces for a career in academia, but it was not until I did my master’s education and engaged in my thesis studies, I got really engaged in creating new knowledge and driving research,” she explains.

Her path towards a PhD was further encouraged by her master’s thesis supervisor, and especially the censor at her defence, who convinced her to go in the direction of pursuing a PhD. From that moment onwards there was no doubt in her mind.

“If I could continue down that path of creating new knowledge and steering research within a field combining human nutrition with well-being, it would be a dream occupation” she explains.

No turning back

Once Barbara Vad Andersen embarked on her doctoral journey, there was no turning back. She had found her calling in understanding the complexities of human appetite and eating behaviour.

She went on to do her PhD, titled “Sensory factors in food satisfaction – an understanding of the satisfaction term and a measurement of factors involved in sensory – and food satisfaction” at the National Food Institute of Denmark.

“When I was finishing my PhD, I was contacted by Professor Derek Byrne from Aarhus University, who asked if I was interested in a position, first as a research assistant and later a Post Doc at The Department of Food Science,” she says.

She very quickly found her place in the group, starting out by doing science-based policy advice, qualifying the ministry’s recommendations for children and elderly via research activities, and by involvement in different research projects.

She was very happy to join a highly ambitious team of researchers at Aarhus University.

“The Department of Food Science has a drive that fits me very well. There is a lot of responsibility and possibilities constantly emerge, which you can use as an opportunity to grow, and this is highly motivating for me,” she explains.

Growing appetite

Barbara Vad Andersen explains that it was around this time her overall research theme of appetite and eating behaviour started to shape.

Since then, her interest in the field has only grown.

“The big question that drives my research is: How is human eating behaviour shaped?” she says.

To investigate this, Barbara Vad Andersen’s work spans from fundamental- to applicable research, and is highly interdisciplinary, combining elements of sensory science, consumer science, nutrition, neuroscience, sociology, and more.

Her research focuses on understanding the multifaceted nature of appetite; from the initial desire to eat, to the maintenance of eating during a meal, the decision to stop eating, and the suppression of appetite.

This comprehensive approach allows her to explore what drives people to eat and how these factors can be harnessed to support behaviour changes e.g. towards healthier and more sustainable eating habits.

Focus on pleasure

One of Barbara Vad Andersen's key contributions is her emphasis on the individual pleasurable aspects of eating and how they can influence our food choices.

She recognises that pleasure is a significant motivator for human behaviour, and by understanding what brings pleasure to individuals and groups in eating-related contexts, it becomes possible to facilitate long-term, sustainable changes in eating behaviour.

“My work basically centres around the human desire to eat, and how we can understand that desire better and use it for supporting long term healthy, pleasant eating habits,” she says. 

Her research also extends to individual-, food- and contextual differences and how these factors influence eating preferences and behaviours. She believes that understanding these differences is essential for understanding human appetite and eating behaviour per se, and for tailoring strategies to specific populations.

“I’ve always had a passion for understanding the motivations behind human behaviours and integrating different perspectives to achieve a deeper understanding. The complex and multifaceted research field of appetite and eating behaviour allows me to be constantly curious and follow my passion every day, while achieving higher purposes such as human health and well-being, and contributing to more climate-friendly eating behaviours,” she explains.

Teaching, mentoring and professional involvements

In addition to her research, Barbara Vad Andersen is actively involved in teaching and mentoring. She is active in teaching committees, coordinates a master's program, is responsible for courses and teaching activities at several universities, and supervises numerous students, contributing to the development of the next generation of researchers in the field of Food Science.

Further, Barbara sits on the board of the national- and European sensory science society, where she works to the growth of the scientific field, facilitate collaboration and knowledge exchange between scientists and practitioners, and in food networks, where she plans events for both professionals and non-professionals with an interest in food-relevant topics.

Barbara Vad Andersen’s career is a testament to the power of curiosity and the pursuit of knowledge.

“I’ve never had a fixed plan. I have always been highly engaged in the process of what I do, and if I like what I do and feel that I am developing, that is what I want to continue doing,” she says.

Her work not only deepens our understanding of human appetite and eating behaviour but also has the potential to improve public health and promote sustainable eating habits overall make her a valuable asset in the Department of Food Science's mission for a healthier, sustainable and not least more pleasant tomorrow.

Barbara Vad Andersen became a Tenure Track Assistant Professor at The Department of Food Science at Aarhus University in December 2021.