Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine; Pediatrics; Behavioral Medicine; Nutrition
My primary research focus is on infant health, specifically infant nutrition and physical activity and enriched home environments. My research aims to identify how infant-toddler eating behaviors affect obesity later in life and how early interventions can protect those at risk from obesity. Ultimately, my work will help promote healthy, active lifestyles for families. The motivation to eat varies among individuals. As food is more reinforcing to individuals with obesity, studying the origin of food reinforcement can provide important steps in obesity prevention. I strive to understand the causes of infant obesity and preventative measures that will decrease the risk of obesity during infancy and later life stages. My laboratory recently developed a paradigm to measure infants’ motivation to eat compared to their motivation to engage in other activities. This paradigm uses a computerized task during which infants press a button to earn reward in the form of the infant’s favorite food and a non-food alternative (e.g., playing with bubbles, listening to music). My studies suggest that the reinforcing value of the non-food alternative may drive the motivation to eat, thus infancy weight gain. To support the importance of the reinforcing value of non-food alternatives, my colleagues and I have shown that strengthening the non-food alternative at home can reduce the motivation of food. I am also currently involved in a large, randomized-control trial funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to examine the effect of a two-year music enhancement program on altering infants’ motivation to eat. I mentor students from UB’s Honors College and its pre-medicine and nutritional sciences programs. I invite interested students to work with me in my research, including data collection and preparation. I help students develop their research, analytical and writing skills to prepare them for their professional goals. Students who work with me on research projects also will gain experience in interpersonal interaction by working with families who participate in my studies.