Cathrine Lawaetz Wimmelmann
Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1014 København K, 05 Øster Farimagsgade 5, Building: 05-1-06
My main research interest concerns the psychological aspects of overweight. Overweight has for several decades been one of the leading public health concerns with worldwide more than 3.5 million individuals dying of obesity-related causes each year. Genetic factors are undoubtedly important determinants of the general trends in overweight, but they cannot account for the substantial individual differences observed in most populations. Psychological and social factors are believed to play a crucial role in both the development and treatment of overweight. Therefore, my current and future research on overweight are divided into two subjects: 1) Early social, psychological, behavioral and environmental predictors of overweight, and 2) The influence of psychological factors on the treatment of severe overweight. – Thus, my research provides important knowledge concerning prevention and treatment.
In addition, I conduct research within several core areas of medical psychology including: 3) Associations of personality and health, 4) Effects of Quality of Life on Mortality and Morbidity and 5) Effects of physical activity on mental health and psychological factors.
I am currently invovlved in several research projects - some of them are described below:
- Early social and psychological predictors of overweight
It is well known that an elevated body mass index (BMI) in young adulthood may have negative consequences for health outcomes later in life. The path to young adult overweight maybe established during early childhood, why the study of predictors of BMI throughout childhood and adolescence is highly important. One risk factor that recently has received increasing attention is adverse childhood experiences. Thus, adverse childhood experiences such as poverty, divorce, death and drug abuse have been found to have strong and enduring effects on health in adulthood including obesity. However, we need better assessment and understanding of how adverse childhood experiences influence weight throughout childhood and adolescence. Such knowledge could improve population health and reduce weight-related health disparities later in life.
Therefore, I have initiated a study with the following main aims: To identify BMI trajectories from birthweight through childhood and adolescence that are associated with overweight and obesity in young adulthood. Furthermore, to investigate the predictive value of adverse childhood experiences for these BMI trajectories
The study aims are investigated using data from four large Danish cohorts and registers: 1) The Danish Life Course (DANLIFE) cohort is a register-based study of all children born in Denmark after 1980 summing up to over 2.2 mil. children. 2) The Copenhagen School Health Records Register (CSHRR), which is a database of over 406.000 children born from 1930 – 1996 who attended school in the municipality of Copenhagen. 3) The Danish Conscription Registry Data (DCRD), which provides information about young adult BMI for 1.7 mil. men, examined 1957-2015. 4) For women young adult BMI is available in the Danish Birth Registry (MFR) including all women giving birth since 1973. Combining these data using the unique identification number (CPR) allow us to identify BMI trajectories from birth throughout childhood and adolescence until young adulthood, and hence to investigate associations of adverse childhood experiences with measured BMI in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood in a large unselected sample of ~ 60.000 Danish children born 1980 – 1996.
The research group consists of: Assisstant professor Cathrine Lawaetz Wimmelmann, Professor Emeritus Thorkild I.A. Sørensen, Professor Naja Hulvej Rod, Professor Claus Ekstrøm and post doc Leonie Elsenburg. The study received 300.000 DKK from Helsefonden in 2021.
- Behavioral predictors of overweight: Epidemiological Developmental Psychology
I am a member of the research group ‘Epidemiological Developmental Psychology’ (EDP), which is headed by associate professor Trine Flensborg-Madsen at the Unit of Medical Psychology. The group has contributed with groundbreaking knowledge on the influence of early life factors on psychological development and later health. The ultimative ambition within the next 10 years is to found a Center of Excellence in Epidemiological Developmental Psychology.
Because one of the greatest public health challenges remains to be overweight, an important future branch of research in the research group will be to investigate factors in childhood that may have extensive effects on overweight and related diseases later in life. I will lead the branch of research on early predictors of overweight and related diseases in the EDP group.
One planned study initiated by associate professor Trine Flensborg-Madsen concerns the psychological long-term cognitive and socio-emotional consequences of screen-use among children and in the near future I intend to also investigate direct and indirect effects of screen-use on the weight status and BMI trajectory of the children.
Screen-use among children has increased drastically in later years. Currently, there is no official Danish guidelines concerning either the amount or content of safe screen-use. This project has the potential to not only provide such guidelines but also to provide knowledge on the potential consequences (and/or benefits) of screen-use among children.
- Personality and Health
Personality is one of the core areas within medical psychology. Personality guides our habits and behaviors and is therefore one of the most important determinants of health throughout the life span. I have previously studied longitudinal associations of personality and several important public health outcomes such as quality of life and overweight. I plan to continue my interest in personality and health and aim to establish a large national personality database that could take personality research in medical science to another level.
Since 2019, I have been involved in the planning of a large-scale project, which includes collecting information about personality, brain activity (EEG) and other social and societal factors in all Danish individuals showing up at a donor clinic to donate blood. In Denmark, over 150.000 individuals donate blood each year and initially the study expects to include 50.000 individuals. Thus, the project has the potential to form an extremely large database with information on personality that may be linked to national registers to investigate associations with various health states and life outcomes in general.
- Effects of Quality of Life on Mortality and Morbidity
In recent years, research has emphasized quality of life as maybe the most important health outcome. Furthermore, the effects of quality of life (QoL) on health and disease among adults has received increasing attention and studies have continuously suggested that higher QoL is associated with reduced mortality.
For the last 5 years, I have been involved in a QoL group at the Unit of Medical Psychology where we investigate associations of QoL, socio-demographic factors and various health outcomes in three large Danish cohorts that were followed-up in the CAMB study. Thus, we have access to a large amount of data that allows for both cross-sectional analyses and more interestingly to investigate associations over time. So far, 12 articles and one book chapter have been published of which I am the first author of four. These papers investigate the predictive value of QoL for BMI changes and development of obesity; the predictive value of personality for later QoL and the predictive value of different measures of QoL for later incidence of ischemic heart disease. In line with these studies, I further plan to investigate prospective associations of QoL with type 2 diabetes and other lifestyle diseases. Finally, I believe that QoL is an essential outcome in health research and I intend to place great emphasis on this factor in my research in general.
- Effects of physical activity on mental health and psychological factors
Life style factors such as physical activity seems to be critical for the physical and mental health of the elderly. Yet, a substantial proportion of older individuals do not meet the physical activity recommendations required to reduce morbidity and maintain physical as well as mental functional ability.
Since 2015, I have been project leader for the psychological part of the The LIve active Successful Ageing (LISA) study, which is a randomized and supervised 1 year training study and is the first study of its kind to have planned long-term follow-ups at 2, 4, 7 and 10 years. LISA includes 450 home-dwelling men and women aged 62–70 years, who have randomly been allocated to two different training regimes (group 1 and group 2) or controls (group 3). Baseline data includes information on a wide range of physiological, neurological and psychological factors including mental distress, personality, health-related quality of life and cognition and the collection of data is repeated at each follow-up. I am responsible for the management and analysis of the psychological data and the plan is to investigate both cross-sectional and prospective group differences in relation to the obtained psychological data. All 450 participants have currently been examined at baseline, 1 year, 2 year and 4 year follow-up. Thus, these data are ready to be analyzed, while the 7 year examination will be initiated summer 2022.
I have taught and supervised students within several subjects of medical psychology:
-Emotions and Motivation
-Perception and Thinking
-Quality of Life
-Riskfactors and Health