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.
The goal of her interdisciplinary research program is to use behavioral phenotyping as an innovative approach for the development of personalized obesity prevention and treatment interventions that are tailored to individual predispositions in neurotypical populations and individuals with developmental disabilities.
“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 and related to energy balance behaviors for mitigating high genetic and behavioral risk 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 an obesity course (NURS 6760 Obesity and Health) she currently teaches at Penn Nursing. For many years, Dr. Kral also served as the course director for an academically based community service (ABCS) course (NURS 3130/5130 Obesity and Society) at Penn Nursing, which engages undergraduate and graduate students 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 science faculty, Dr. Kral believes that engaging students and trainees in research is critical for building research skills and inspiring them to pursue careers in science. Her students learn about the complexities of research and receive hands-on training as they assist on research projects, performing tasks ranging from helping with study visits, preparing experimental meals, observing anthropometric measurements, scoring questionnaires and coding interviews to entering data. Students and trainees play a critical role in 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
Kral, TV (2018). Behavioral phenotypes for childhood obesity: 2017 Alan N. Epstein Research Award. Physiology and Behavior, 192: 206-209.
Kral TV, Allison DB, Birch LL, Stallings VA, Moore RH, Faith MS (2012). Caloric compensation and eating in the absence of hunger in 5- to 12-year-old weight-discordant siblings. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96: 574-583.
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.
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 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, Eriksen WT, Souders MC, Pinto-Martin JA (2013). Eating behaviors, diet quality, and gastrointestinal symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorders: A brief review. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 28: 548-556.
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.
Faith MS, Van Horn L, Appel LJ, Burke L, Carson JAS, Franch HA, Jakicic JM, Kral TV, Odoms-Young A, Wansink B, Wylie-Rosett J (Writing group of the American Heart Association) (2012). Evaluating parents and adult caregivers as “agents of change” for treating obese children - Evidence for parent behavior change strategies and research gaps: Statement from the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism. Circulation, 125(9): 1186-1207.
Kral TV, Moore RH, Chittams J, Jones E, O’Malley L, Fisher JO (2018). Identifying behavioral phenotypes for childhood obesity. Appetite, 127: 87-96.