STRONG=Synergistic Theory and Research on Nutrition and Obesity Group


A graduate research assistant doing measurements for the STRONG Kids 2 project

Using a cells-to-society approach to nutrition, this transdisciplinary project will provide unique insights into how individual biology interacts with the family environment to promote healthy eating habits in young children. It is one of the first studies to take a longitudinal look at eating habits from a child's birth, including milk and dairy consumption. STRONG Kids 2 is built upon previous research from the STRONG Kids 1 study.

The STRONG Kids study monitors preschool-age children to document the relationship among genetic, child, and family factors in predicting BMI and dietary habits. The study sample includes 451 infants and their families, who are located in small urban communities in central Illinois. Biological samples and height and weight measurements from infants and toddlers are collected at six weeks and three, 12, 18, 24, and 36 months and then four, five, six, and seven years later. Mothers are surveyed about weaning, dietary habits, household routines, children’s emotions, feeding styles, and milk and dairy consumption. Additional measures such as maternal height and weight, a skin carotenoid assessment, and a Bioelectrical Impedance Scale measurement are also collected.

Learn more about the STRONG Kids Program.

Research Team

  • Barbara Fiese, Ph.D., Project Co-Director, Professor Emerita, Human Development and Family Studies
  • Sharon Donovan, Ph.D., RD, Project Co-Director, Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Jacinda Dariotis, Ph.D., MAS, Director, Family Resiliency Center; Professor, Human Development and Family Studies 
  • Kelly Freeman Bost, Ph.D., Professor, Human Development and Family Studies
  • Naiman Khan, Ph.D., R.D., Associate Professor, Kinesiology and Community Health
  • Soo-Yeun Lee, Ph.D., Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition
  • Brent McBride, Ph.D., Director, Child Development Lab; Professor, Human Development and Family Studies
  • Margarita Teran-Garcia, Ph.D., MD, Assistant Dean for Integrated Health Disparities Programs, Extension
  • Jenny Barton, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate


  • Brianna Vargas-Gonzalez, Research Specialist;
  • Madison Helms, Research Assistant
  • Courtney Kowalski, Research Assistant
  • Anne Yuen, Research Assistant
  • Talia Zhao, Research Assistant
  • Araceli Urbina, Research Assistant

Further Information

FRC podcast: "Childhood Obesity: An Inside Look at a Cells-to-Society Approach to Research and Intervention."

Blog post by Barbara H. Fiese: "Family Mealtimes - Why Do They Matter?"

View the STRONG Kids 2 timeline and participant information.

Podcast: Exploring Childhood Obesity with STRONG Kids2

Hosted by Tyler Wolpert, this podcast with Jen Themanson covers the goals and project recruitment of the STRONG Kids2 (SK2) Program, which takes a cells-to-society approach to nutrition. More specifically, SK2 examines how individual biology interacts with the family environment to promote healthy eating habits in young children.

Listen to the podcast.


STRONG Kids 2 Publications

Cole, N. C., Musaad, S. M., Lee, S., Donovan, S.M., & The STRONG Kids Team. (2018). Home feeding environment and picky eating in preschool-aged children: A prospective analysis. Eating Behaviors, 30, 76-82.

Davis, E.C.; Wang, M.; & Donovan, S.M. (2022) Microbial interrelationships across sites of breastfeeding mothers and infants at 6 weeks postpartum. Microorganisms 2022, 10, 1155. 10.3390/microorganisms10061155

Dolcos, F., Katsumi, Y., Bogdan, P. C., Shen, C., Jun, S., Buetti, S., Lleras, A., Bost, K. F., Weymar, M., & Dolcos, S. (2020). The impact of focused attention on subsequent emotional recollection: A functional MRI investigation Neuropsychologia, 138, 107338. https/

Dolcos, F., Katsumi, Y., Shen, C., Bogdan, P. C., Jun, S., Larsen, R., Heller, W., Bost, K. F., & Dolcos, S. (2020). The impact of focused attention on emotional experience: A functional MRI investigation. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience. https//

Donovan, S. M., & S. (n.d.). Early feeding practices influence weight gain and gastrointestinal health in the STRONG Kids 2 Cohort [Abstract]. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition, 62.

Donovan, S. M., Fiese, B. H., & S. (n.d.). The Independent and Cumulative Effect of Early Life Risk Factors on Child Growth: A Preliminary Report [Abstract]. Childhood  Obesity , 12, 193-201.

Donovan, S. M., & S. (n.d.). Predictors of early feeding practices in the STRONG Kids 2 cohort.  [Abstract]. FASEB Journal, 30(1150), 20th ser.

Ellis, J. L., Wang, M., Fu, X., Fields, C. J., Donovan, S. M., & Booth, S. L. (2022). Feeding practice and delivery mode are determinants of vitamin K in the infant gut: An exploratory analysis. Current Developments in Nutrition, 6;nzac019.

Fiese, B. H. (2021). Family mealtimes: Promoting health and well-being. In L. A. Francis et al. (eds.), Families, Food, and Parenting. National Symposium on Family Issues, 11,

Fiese, B. H. (2018). Time allocation and dietary habits in the United States: Time for re-evaluation? Physiology and Behavior. 193, 205-208.

Fiese, B. H., & Bost, K. K. (n.d.). Family ecologies and child risk for obesity: Focus on regulatory processes. Family Relations, 655, 94-107.

Fiese, B. H., Cai, T., Sutter, C., & Bost, K. K. (2021). Bedtimes, bedtime routines, and children’s sleep across the first two years of life. Sleep, 1-9, doi:10.1093/sleep/zsabo45.

Fiese, B. H., Musaad, S., Bost, K. K., McBride, B. A., Lee, S., Teran-Garcia, M., & Donovan, S. M. (2019). Current Developments in Nutrition, 3, nzz007,https/

Iwinski, S., Cole, N.C., Saltzman, J. A., Donovan, S. M., Lee, S., Fiese, B. H., & Bost, K. K. (2021). Child attachment behavior as a moderator of the relation between feeding responsiveness and picky eating behavior. Eating Behaviors, 40, 101465.

Iwinski, S., Donovan, S. M., Fiese, B., & Bost, K. (2021). The impact of household chaos and dietary intake on executive function in young children. Nutrients, 13, 4442.

Lundquist, A., McBride, B. A., Donovan, S. M., & Kieffer, A. (2019). An exploratory look at the role of childcare providers as a support and resource for breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding Medicine, 14, 313-319. DOI/10.1089/bfm.2018.0091.

Lundquist, A., McBride, B. A., Donovan, S. M., & Wszalek, M. (2022). Father support for breastfeeding mothers who plan to utilize childcare: A qualitative look at Mothers’ perspectives. Appetite, 169, 105854.

Musaad, S. M. A., Donovan, S. M., Fiese, B. H., & The STRONG Kids2 Research Team (2016). The independent and cumulative effect of early life risk factors on child growth: A preliminary report. Childhood Obesity, 12. DOI:10.1089/chi.2016.0018.

Saltzman, J. C., Bost, K. K., Fiese, B. F., & Donovan, S. M. (n.d.). Responsive feeding and breastfeeding moderate the association between maternal attachment security and overeating in 18-month old infants in the STRONG Kids 2 cohort. FASEB Journal, 31(169), 4th ser.

Saltzman, J. A., Bost, K. K., McBride, B. A., & Fiese, B. H. (2019). Household chaos, maternal emotional responsiveness, and child eating behavior: A moderation analysis. Journal Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 40, 622-632. DOI:10.1097/DBP0000000000000701.

Saltzman, J. A., Musaad, S., Bost, K. K., McBride, B. A., & Fiese, B. H. (2019). Associations between father availability, mealtime distractions, and routines, and maternal feeding responsiveness: An observational study. Journal of Family Psychology, 33, 465-475.

Sutter, C., Davis, E. C., Lundquist, A., Koress, V., Isberg, K., Bryant-Cromwell, M., Meline, B., McBride, B. A., & Fiese, B. H. (2020). Breastfeeding information and support across multiple sources: Identifying opportunities for coordinated care. Clinical Lactation, 11,

Sutter, C., Fiese, B. H., Lundquist, A., Davis, E. C., McBride, B. A., & Donovan, S. M. (2018). Sources of information and support for breastfeeding: Alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strategies. Breastfeeding Medicine, 13. DOI: 10.1089/bfm.2018.0056.


This research was funded by grants from the National Dairy Council to Sharon Donovan and Barbara H. Fiese (CoPI’s), the Gerber Foundation to Sharon Donovan, the Christopher Family Foundation to Sharon Donovan and Kelly K. Bost, Hatch ILLU 793-330 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Barbara H. Fiese, Kelly K. Bost and Margarita Teran-Garcia, and the National Institutes of Health DK107561 to Sharon Donovan.