My principal area of interest is the development and modification of children’s eating habits and food choice, with a focus on increasing children’s consumption of fruit and vegetables, particularly with picky or fussy eaters. Previous research has included a large-scale survey of nursery schoolchildren examining the factors associated with fruit and vegetable consumption, a school-based questionnaire study of food preferences in 5-16 year-olds and a trial of the effectiveness of an exposure-based intervention, carried out by parents in the home, in increasing children’s acceptance of a previously disliked vegetable. The piloting of a similar exposure-based intervention with low income families attending Sure Start centres has been completed and written up.
I have also been involved in a family-based treatment programme for children with obesity run in conjunction with Great Ormond Street Hospital. In this capacity I assisted with recruitment, psychological assessment of potential participants, general administration and programme delivery at weekly treatment sessions.
Recent projects are: POPPETS – a cross-sectional survey study leading to the development of a habit-based healthy eating intervention for parents of preschool children and a series of studies into the impact of incentives in child feeding funded by a 3 year grant from MRC/NPRI. This highly successful project has led to the development of a printed resource known as 'Tiny Tastes' which is available to purchase from www.weightconcern.org/tinytastes. Tiny Tastes comprises a colourful pack containing instructions, monitoring sheets and stickers to help parents and caregivers to introduce healthy foods into their child's diet. The launch of the packs aroused considerable press interest and resulted in coverage both in national newspapers and on television. There has also been interest from health professionals and clinicians working with children with feeding difficulties at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and the development of an adapted version of Tiny Tastes for use with this population is in progress.
In 2010 I was awarded a grant by the European Union 7th Framework Programme to investigate the impact of early exposure on infant’s acceptance of fruit and vegetables. This is part of a large-scale collaborative project entitled ‘HabEat: Determining factors and critical periods in food habit formation and breaking in early childhood: a multidisciplinary approach’ in conjunction with ten other European partners. This has involved the development and testing of a simple intervention in which babies are offered vegetables only as first weaning foods.
I am involved in teaching on three MSc courses at UCL and supervise both MSc and PhD students.
I have published in excess of 50 peer reviewed papers, invited reviews and book chapters (list on request). I also have experience of writing for lay audiences, notably authoring a number of advice pages for the BBC CBeebies parents website.