A neurobiologist by training, Jennifer L. Temple, PhD, became interested in factors that impact human ingestive behavior and wanted to explore why we eat what we eat.
She came to the University at Buffalo in 2005 to study these behavioral influences, including food variety, genetics, television and food additives, in the laboratory of Leonard H. Epstein, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and chief of the Division of Behavioral Medicine. She later joined the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences where today she is an assistant professor and director of the Nutrition and Health Research Laboratory.
Temple’s research focuses on several major areas, including the effects of caffeine intake in children and adolescents, gender difference in effects of caffeine, food reinforcement and sensory system influences on eating in adults, and the relationship between food reinforcement and weight change over time.
In a series of studies funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, Temple and researchers in the Nutrition and Health Research Laboratory are attempting to understand the physiological, psychological and behavioral effects of caffeine among adolescents.
According to Temple, caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world and its use is increasing among children. Although considered safe, the majority of empirical data on the effects of caffeine have been collected in adults. Previous studies demonstrated that caffeine has dose-dependent effects on physiological, mood and energy intake in adolescents, and that boys appear to be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than girls.
Temple is currently conducting a double-blind, placebo controlled, dose response study to examine the effects of acute and chronic caffeine on blood pressure, heart rate, hand tremor, liking and perception of sweetness of sucrose solutions, and preference for and consumption of snack foods.
“These studies are important because they will provide much needed information on the effects of caffeine in children and adolescents as well as identify mechanisms that influence gender differences in response to caffeine and, perhaps, other drugs of abuse,” she said.
In ongoing food reinforcement studies, Temple and her team are examining factors that influence the reinforcing value of food, or how hard people will work to have access to food.
“We have previously shown that consumption of a large portion of the same unhealthy snack food every day for two weeks significantly reduces food reinforcement in non-obese adults, but increases food reinforcement in obese adults,” she said. “We have repeated this a number of times, showing that this increase in obese adults only occurs when larger portions of snack food are consumed and that it is specific to high energy density (or less healthy) foods.”
Next steps call for identifying factors that predict this response to snack food in adults and trying to determine if this response pattern predicts weight gain over time.
Temple began conducting research on steroid hormones and visceral pain as an undergraduate and appreciates the benefits of becoming involved in research early in an academic career. She encourages undergraduate and graduate students to explore research opportunities at UB, and said that the Nutrition and Health Research Laboratory offers many.
“Our research assistants are involved in all aspects of recruitment, data collection, data entry and manuscript preparation,” she said. “This is truly a hands-on experience that has helped prepare students for graduate and medical school or for PhD programs in nutrition, public health, psychology or exercise science.”