The Metabolic Kitchen and Children’s Eating Behavior Laboratory - Research

Current Research Studies

Spice It Up!

While strategies to increase vegetable intake are a public health priority, children report that the primary reason they do not consume vegetables is taste. The aim of this project is to test strategies to improve the taste and acceptance of vegetables by using herbs and spices to increase palatability and intake of vegetables in school lunches. We have conducted preliminary surveys with students, parents and food service staff at a middle/high School in central Pennsylvania to identify key barriers and challenges to preparing healthy and tasty vegetables. This information will be used, in conjunction with novel recipes developed by chefs, to provide palatable vegetable dishes for student taste tests in the near future. After optimal recipes are finalized, they will be served as part of the cafeteria lunch program. We predict that after our intervention, overall student satisfaction ratings with school lunches will be higher, overall vegetable intake will increase, and the percentage of students participating in the school lunch program will be higher.

Children's Taste Study:

The purpose of the Children's Taste Study is to test ways to increase children's acceptance of vegetables. We ask children (3-5 years) to taste and eat foods with different spice blends. We also measure factors shown to play a role in children’s eating behaviors, such as weight status, child food neophobia (fear of new foods), parental feeding practices, bitter taste sensitivity, and food familiarity. Data collection is currently underway by Wendy Stein, Graduate Research Assistant and COPT Fellow, and Elizabeth Carney, Undergraduate Research Assistant. This study is funded by a COPT SEED Grant awarded from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture Grant #2011-67001-30117 Program A2121 - Childhood Obesity Prevention: Transdisciplinary Graduate Education and Training in Nutrition and Family Sciences.

Commercials

The Commercials study is designed to assess the impact that food marketing has on children's food intake and their neural response to food pictures as assessed by fMRI. Children and parents will visit the lab on 5 different occasions. Children watch fun cartoons and eat meals with us on their first three visits. On the final two visits children get to watch cartoons and then view pictures of food in the MRI scanner. This project will help us to understand if there are children who may be particularly vulnerable to techniques used by food marketers and if this type of marketing is contributing to the obesity epidemic. Participating families will be compensated for their time and participation.

Decision-Making:

This study asks how decision-making influences food choice in children 7 to 11 years old. We are interested in understanding why some children choose to eat more of certain foods than others. This study will help us learn more about how children make food-based decisions, and may help us to teach children to eat more nutritious diets. Children and their parents will be asked to come to our laboratory on four separate occasions. On each visit, children will play various games and on two visits, they will consume a meal in our laboratory. We will also use magnetic resonance imaging to understand what areas of the brain are important for decision-making and rewarding values of food.

Hunger and Fullness

The purpose of this 2-year project is to develop an evidence-based curriculum for teaching preschool children to eat in response to internal hunger and fullness signals. There are currently no validated methods for teaching children these basic skills, despite the fact that doing so is necessary to prevent the development of obesity. To accomplish this task, we have assembled a multi-disciplinary team from nutrition, eating behavior, obesity prevention, science education, and information sciences and technology. First, we will refine and build upon a pre-existing curriculum by incorporating 1) state-of-the art theories in early childhood science education, 2) innovative virtual technology to provide more realistic simulations of hunger and fullness, and 3) a parent training component to improve long-range sustainability. A core feature of this curriculum will be the creation of a virtual technology program that children can use to simulate hunger and fullness. Second, we will conduct an experimental study to determine the effectiveness of this curriculum on children’s ability to regulate energy intake in the laboratory.