The Dairy Research Institute is providing $1 million of support over five years to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study how children acquire healthy eating habits. The research is expected to provide unique insights into how individual biology interacts with the family environment to promote healthy eating habits, including milk and dairy consumption, in young children. It is one of the first longitudinal studies to take a look at the interaction between biological and environmental factors in predicting eating habits, starting at birth.
The Family Resiliency Center and the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the university will spearhead the project, named “Strong Kids 2: A cells-to-society approach to nutrition.”

“This research project is timely and important as we know that birth to three years of age is a critical time for establishing food preferences, immune tolerance and the gut microbiome,” said Sharon Donovan, professor of Food Science & Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois. “We are very excited to be working with the Dairy Research Institute to define how dairy products contribute to the growth and development of young children” she added.

“For generations, dairy farmers have been committed to children’s health, wellness and learning,” said Greg Miller, president of the Dairy Research Institute, Rosemont, Ill., and a Dairy Foods columnist. “We’re proud to be part of this important research initiative that will provide critical new insights for health and wellness professionals to use in helping kids establish good nutrition habits they need for a lifetime, such as drinking milk.”

The project is part of the larger Strong Kids Program based at the Family Resiliency Center and is being co-directed by FRC Director Barbara Fiese and Donovan. “The Family Resiliency Center is excited about this partnership as this research project will make important contributions towards informing policy and practice that help families create healthy habits for their children from the beginning,” Fiese said.

Strong Kids 2 is built upon previous research with preschool aged children, documenting the relationship among genetic, child, and family factors in predicting BMI and dietary habits.

The Dairy Research Institute drives advances in dairy nutrition research, product innovation, and sustainability. Its sister organization, National Dairy Council, will incorporate learning from this project into its nutrition education efforts with educators and health professionals to support health and wellness among children. DRI was established under the leadership of America's dairy farmers with a commitment to nutrition, product and sustainability research. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created to strengthen the dairy industry’s access to and investment in the technical research required to drive innovation and demand for dairy products and ingredients globally.