Researchers seek children to taste chocolate milkshakes

Researchers are seeking kids to participate in an imaging study to help explain how the brain may drive some people to overeat.

Children are being sought for a study that will measure their brains' response to the taste of chocolate milkshakes.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine are seeking healthy children ages 4-8 to volunteer for a study of how the brain responds to the taste of chocolate milkshakes.

The research is part of an ongoing effort to understand how individual differences in anticipating and tasting pleasurable foods influences a person’s risk of becoming overweight or obese.

“In adults with obesity, we see an overactive response in the brain to the expectation of a pleasurable food, but then a blunted response or lack of response to the actual taste,” said Cara Bohon, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the leader of the research team.

Scientists suspect that this mismatch between what the brain expects and how it actually responds to a tasty food may make it difficult for some adults to lose weight. But they are not sure if the discrepancy in the brain is a consequence of years of overeating, or if it can be present early in life. That is why the Stanford team wants to study children.

In the study, children will have their brains scanned with magnetic resonance imaging while they look at a picture of a chocolate milkshake. Then, while still in the scanner, they will receive a few drops of milkshake through a pacifier-shaped device. MRI scans are noninvasive, though they do require the child to lie still in a small space.

The study is open to boys and girls ages 4-8. They will make two visits to the Stanford campus, one to practice going in an MRI scanner and the second for the study scans. Parents will be asked to complete a questionnaire about their children’s eating habits and historical weight trajectory, and the parents’ current height and weight also will be recorded. To be eligible to volunteer, children must not have any metal implants in their bodies, and the parent who completes the questionnaire must speak English. Children who complete the study will receive a $100 honorarium.

The study’s results may help researchers to find ways to prevent obesity in early life. “When we think of how hard it is to tackle obesity in adulthood, it motivates us to figure out how we can prevent it from happening in the first place,” Bohon said.

Individuals who want to obtain more information about participating in the study can contact study coordinator Talya Feldman at or at (650) 723-7885.

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