The most common—and preventable—chronic disease of childhood is dental caries, or tooth decay, and developing healthy nutritional habits is a key to prevention. In a new five-year study, Temple’s College of Public Health, the Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry and the Monell Chemical Senses Center are joining forces to tackle the challenges of children’s oral health and eating behaviors.
The College of Public Health's Jennifer Orlet Fisher and the Monell Center's Julie Mennella have been awarded a $3.7M grant by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders through the National Institutes of Health. The study will recruit mothers and young children to investigate snacking behavior and oral health.
“Snacking is nearly universal among young children and a part of children’s diets where there is a lot of room for improvement in nutritional quality of foods consumed,” explained Fisher, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, associate director of Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education (CORE), and the primary investigator for the college’s portion of the study.
“Because children eat what tastes good to them, we need to focus on how they learn to like the taste of healthy foods,” explained Mennella, a member at the Monell Center, a basic research institute focused on the senses of taste and smell.
Researchers will enroll more than 100 mother-child pairs for a five-month period. The study will provide daily snacks for mothers to offer their children at home. Children’s taste and food preferences, as well as their intake of snack foods, will be assessed at monthly visits to Temple and Monell. There, mothers and children will receive education on oral health and caries prevention, led by Marisol Tellez-Merchan of Kornberg School of Dentistry.
Fisher and Mennella hope to learn how to shift children’s snacking habits in a healthier direction to support oral health.
“This kind of work is important because we are tackling two major public health issues at once,” Fisher explained. “Our goal is to help young kids develop good nutritional habits that keep their smiles healthy for years to come.”