Tanja V.E. Kral, PhD
A nutrition scientist with training in the study of human ingestive behavior, Tanja Kral’s research focuses on the cognitive, sensory, and nutritional controls of appetite and eating in children and adults and their relevance to obesity.
Her research specifically assesses how familial predispositions to leanness or obesity interact with environmental factors, such as the obesogenic food environment, to produce individual differences in energy intake regulation.
“I am interested in improving health outcomes of children and adults who are most susceptible to developing obesity.”
- PhD, The Pennsylvania State University, 2003
- MS, The Pennsylvania State University, 2001
- BS, University of Applied Sciences, Münster, Germany, 1998
Dr. Kral’s research focuses on studying protective factors within families for mitigating behavioral and socioeconomic risk factors for obesity development in predominantly minority children from low-resource environments. She discusses racial and ethnic disparities in adult and pediatric obesity in the United States in a nutrition science course she teaches at Penn Nursing. As part of this academically based community service (ABCS) course, undergraduate and graduate students engage with elementary and high school students in the West Philadelphia community to promote healthy nutrition and physical activity in youth.
When studying eating behaviors and weight trajectories in children and their families, Dr. Kral currently focuses on environment (e.g., home food environment and parental feeding practices);genetics (e.g., family history of obesity); economics (e.g., food insecurity and financial incentives); and meal characteristics (e.g., portion size and energy density). With NIH funding, she is studying the impact of short-term appetite and intake regulation on longer-term energy intake control and weight development in a cohort of ethnically diverse normal-weight and obese boys and girls with different familial predispositions to obesity. Most recently, Dr. Kral studied the effects of breakfast composition on hunger, fullness, and intake at subsequent meals in 40 children, aged 8 to 10. The study resulted in some international media coverage about how protein-rich foods eaten for breakfast kept children full longer than grain-based foods, and helped reduce calorie intake at lunch.
Eating Patterns in Childhood Track For Life
Food preferences, eating behaviors, and physical activity habits established during childhood often track into adulthood and become more difficult to change. Dr. Kral’s research underscores her belief that early childhood is an important period for shaping healthy habits that help prevent obesity. Under a pilot grant from the Biobehavioral Research Center at Penn Nursing, Dr. Kral and colleagues studied eating behaviors and weight outcomes in children with autism spectrum disorder. Their study showed that children with autism not only had increased levels of picky eating but they were also more prone to being overweight and obese when compared to typically developing children.
Dr. Kral further seeks to learn whether obesogenic eating behaviors manifest themselves before children become obese and anticipates using her findings to design personalized behavioral interventions for children who are at greatest risk for obesity.
Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing
As a member of Penn Nursing’s nutrition faculty, Dr. Kral believes that the interrelationship between research and teaching is very exciting. Her students learn about the complexities of research and receive hands-on training as they assist on her research projects, performing tasks ranging from preparing experimental meals to scoring appetite ratings to entering data. The assistance of students is instrumental for moving Dr. Kral’s research forward.
Selected Career Highlights
- Recipient, Alan Epstein Research Award, Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB)
- Member, Interdisciplinary Research Network “Promoting Healthy Weight Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Special Health Care Needs,” E. K. Shriver Center, University of Massachusetts Medical School
- Executive Editor, Appetite journal
- Recipient, Ruth Pike Lecture Series Award, Department of Nutritional Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University
- Recipient, Dean’s Award for Undergraduate Scholarly Mentorship, School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania
- Associate Fellow, Center for Public Health Initiatives, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
Fields VL, Soke GN, Reynolds A, Tian LH, Wiggins L, Maenner M, DiGuiseppi C, Kral TVE, Hightshoe K, Schieve LA. Pica, autism, and other disabilities. Pediatrics, 147(2): e20200462.
Kral TVE, Moore RH, Chittams J, O’Malley L, Jones E, Quinn RJ, Fisher JO (2020). Does eating in the absence of hunger extend to healthy snacks in children? Childhood Obesity, 15(11): e12659.
Kral TV, Chittams J, Bradley CB, Daniels JL, DiGuiseppi CG, Johnson S, Pandey J, Pinto-Martin JA, Rahai N, Ramirez AJ, Schieve LA, Thompson A, Windham G, York W, Young L, Levy SE (2019). Early life influences on child weight outcomes in the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED). Autism, 23(4): 954-962.
Kral, TV (2018). Behavioral phenotypes for childhood obesity: 2017 Alan N. Epstein Research Award. Physiology and Behavior, 192: 206-209.
Kral TV, Moore RH, Chittams J, Jones E, O’Malley L, Fisher JO (2018). Identifying behavioral phenotypes for childhood obesity. Appetite, 127: 87-96.
Kral TV, Chittams J, Moore RH (2017). Relationship between food insecurity, child weight status, and parent-reported child eating and snacking behaviors. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing, 22(2): e12177.
Kral TV, Bannon AL, Chittams J, Moore RH (2016). Comparison of the satiating properties of egg- versus cereal grain-based breakfasts for energy intake control in children. Eating Behaviors, 20: 14-20.
Kral TV, Bannon AL, Moore RH (2016). Effects of financial incentives for the purchase of healthy groceries on dietary intake and weight outcomes among older adults: A randomized pilot study. Appetite, 100: 110-117.
Kral TV, Hetherington MM (2015). Variability in children’s eating response to portion size: A biobehavioral perspective. Appetite, 88: 5-10.
Kral TV, Souders MC, Tompkins VH, Remiker AM, Eriksen WT, Pinto-Martin JA (2015). Child eating behaviors and caregiver feeding practices in children with autism spectrum disorders. Public Health Nursing, 32(5): 488-497.