The Metabolic Kitchen and Children’s Eating Behavior Laboratory - For Parents

For Parents

Thank you for your interest in the Metabolic Kitchen and Children’s Eating Behavior Laboratory at Penn State! We are currently recruiting children and parents for our studies related to nutrition and eating behavior. We are interested in identifying factors that can help prevent nutritional disorders and obesity.

For more information, please visit the following links:

Frequently Asked Questions

What do we study?

We study eating behaviors in young children, in particular, how they develop and how are they related to risk for obesity and other nutrition-related diseases in life. We are using techniques such as brain imaging and genetic screening to provide insight into how food preferences and eating behaviors develop. Also, we are researching the impact of food marketing and branding on these eating behaviors.

Where are you located?

We are in room 311 of Chandlee Lab, located at the University Park campus of Penn State University, across from Old Main. We do our brain imaging work in the SLEIC facility, in the basement of Chandlee Lab.

Is parking available?

Yes. The Metabolic Kitchen and Children’s Eating Behavior Lab has free parking passes for study volunteers. You will be parking immediately to the rear of Chandlee Lab. For studies at the SLEIC, we will also provide you with a parking pass. Please see the Contact section of our site for more detailed driving directions and parking information.

What age volunteers are we studying?

We conduct multiple studies with children of many different age ranges. Currently our studies are looking for children ages 3 to 17. We anticipate different age ranges in future studies. Even if your child is younger or older than these ages, we would be glad to take your contact information and inform you of relevant upcoming studies as they begin.

If we choose to participate, what types of tasks will my child and I complete?

In many of our studies, we ask parents to fill out questionnaires describing family demographics, parenting style, children's eating behavior, and food preferences and intake.

Each study presents different participation opportunities for your child. Some examples include completing taste tests, picking out cartoon characters for vegetable containers, using a laptop computer to answer questions about food preferences, selecting which foods they would like to eat for a meal, or playing educational nutrition games.

At the SLEIC, your child may view pictures of common foods and food packages while we collect information and pictures from your child's brain. In combination with the use of our pediatric gustometer (“tasting machine”), they may even taste beverages while the camera takes pictures of your child’s brain.

What is fMRI and is it safe?

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) measures activity by tracking the amount of blood flow as your child performs a task. It is a very strong magnet and is able to measure small changes in blood flow. When your child is in the fMRI, he/she may be viewing pictures or tasting small amounts of liquids.

Many parents and children may be concerned when they see the fMRI scanner. It is really a big camera, but it may be scary for some children. We have special training procedures to explain the scanner to children. All of our staff have specialized training to work with children. They will first go through a training protocol in the “mock” or pretend scanner to teach your child how to keep their body still. We will teach your child how to relax and speak to us in “mission control” without moving around during the scan. For some children, this may be difficult. We expect this and it’s okay if your child has to leave the scan early. The study is voluntary. Our goal is to make sure you and your child have a fun, comfortable, and rewarding experience at our lab.

What is a gustometer and how does it work?

We are interested in studying how your child’s brain response to foods and beverages. To study this, we have a special device called a “gustometer.” It delivers small samples of beverages (milk, soda, milkshake) to a child or adult who is undergoing fMRI. Ours is specially designed to fit a child’s mouth comfortably. Outside the fMRI environment, a laptop computer provides small samples of drink for your child at special times during the scan. We will train your child prior to the scan so they know exactly what to expect.

Are there any risks or benefits to participating?

There are no risks associated with participating in our studies. While there is no direct benefit to your child, by participating you will be adding to our understanding of childhood eating behaviors.

Will I be paid for participating in your study?

We do pay for participating in our studies. In addition, several of our studies give children who participate a prize as a thank you.

Will I be with my child the whole time?

Yes, if you wish to. We have multiple observation rooms where you can watch your child participate in the different components of the study.

What happens when I arrive?

When your visit is scheduled, we will immediately send you a letter of introduction describing what to expect at your first visit, a map of the campus, and a parking pass. At your appointment, we will greet you in the rear parking lot behind Chandlee Lab, show you where to park, and assist you and your family to our lab in 311 Chandlee Lab.

The researcher in charge of the data collection will ask you to read and sign a consent form first. They will explain the study in detail, make sure all your related questions are answered, and will give you a copy of the consent form to take home with you.

When are studies scheduled?

We know that families are very busy and it can be difficult to make time for research. As such, we do our best to schedule visits that are convenient for you.

Can I bring my other child(ren) with me to the study?

Yes! Depending on the age of your child(ren), they can either stay with you during the study or we can arrange to have one research assistant play with them in our Reception Room. Please let us know before you come to the appointment.

How can I get involved?

If you have received a contact information form (LINK) from us, please complete it and mail it back to us. A researcher will then contact you. If you have not received a form from us but are interested in participating in any of our studies, please contact Terri Cravener, our Research Coordinator (814-863-9841).