Infant Feeding

mother feeding child

The Infant Feeding group is one of three groups which form our Human Appetite Research Unit (HARU) at the University of Leeds. This group conducts research in order to understand the psychological processes involved in a number of aspects of infant feeding including hunger, appetite, food preference and satiation.

Areas of focus for the group are:

  • identifying gene-environment risk factors for obesity in childhood

  • characterising hunger, appetite and satiation cues in infancy

  • understanding infant communication through facial expressions, gesture, gaze and gross bodily movements

  • the development of food preferences in pre-school children

  • the application of experiential learning for vegetable liking and intake in early life

  • the effects of portion control in pre-school and school age children

  • The research group is led by Professor Marion Hetherington and the team consists of Dr Pam Blundell-Birtill (Associate Professor) and Dr Ali Fildes (UAF, co-Director of the GEMINI project) with links to Dr Netalie Shloim (School of Healthcare).


Research on portion size has been funded through the BBSRC DRINC initiative (Downsizing: using environmental cues to acquire healthy portion control in children, adolescents and their families. 2015-2018 - £531,783).

Research on infant feeding has been funded by the EU in the following projects:

  • Marie Curie Industry Academic Partnerships and Pathways (IAPP) FP7 230637 “V is for Vegetable: Applying learning theory to increase liking and intake of vegetables”.  PI with Dr Jo Cecil, University of St Andrews, Dr Diane Jackson, University of Aberdeen and Danone Medical and Baby Nutrition, €431,653; 2009-2013.

  • EU FP7 Collaborative Project (KBBE-2009-2-1-01: Determinants of food habit formation /breaking) Determining factors and critical periods in food Habit formation and breaking in Early childhood: a multidisciplinary approach (HabEat).  Coordinated by Dr Sylvie Issanchou, INRA, Dijon.  Total award €3,819,408 (to Leeds: €426,648).

Research on gene-environment interactions in obesity risk has been funded through an initial investment by Cancer Research UK for the GEMINI Health and development in twins cohort. Since its initial inception in 2008 by Professor Jane Wardle at UCL, projects have been funded by various sources and it is currently co-directed by Dr Clare Llewellyn (UCL) and Dr Alison Fildes (Leeds).


Professor Marion Hetherington
Dr Pam Birtill
Alison Fildes 
Netalie Shloim

Group Publications

List of publications relevant to current research group projects.

Responsive feeding

  • Shloim N, Blundell-Birtill P, Hetherington MM.  Israeli and British women’s well-being and eating behaviours in pregnancy and the postpartum. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, in press.

  • Shloim N, Shafiq I, Blundell-Birtill P, Hetherington MM. Infant hunger and satiety cues during the first two years of life: developmental changes of within meal signalling. Appetite, 2018, 128, 303-310.

  • Bergmeier HJ, Skouteris H, Hetherington MM, Rodgers RJ, Campbell KJ, Cox R. Do maternal perceptions of child eating and feeding help to explain the disconnect between reported and observed feeding practices. A follow-up study. Maternal and Child Nutrition, 2017, 13:e12420. DOI: 10.1111/mcn.12420.

  • Shloim N, Vereijken CMJL, Blundell P, Hetherington MM. Looking for cues-infant communication of hunger and satiation during milk feeding. Appetite, 2017, 108, 74-82.

  • McNally J, Hugh-Jones S, Caton S, Vereijken C, Weenen H, Hetherington MM. Communicating hunger and satiation in the first two years of life: a systematic review. Maternal and Child Nutrition, 2016, 12(2):205-28. DOI: 10.1111/mcn.12230.

  • Shloim N, Edelson LR, Martin N, Hetherington MM. Parenting styles, feeding styles, feeding practices and risk of obesity in 4-12 year-old children: A systematic review of the literature. Frontiers in Nutrition (Eating Behaviour), 6: 1849. DOI 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01849

Portion size

  • Hetherington MM, Blundell-Birtill P, Caton SJ, Cecil JE, Evans CE, Rolls BJ, Tang T. Understanding the science of portion control and the art of downsizing. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2018, 77, 347-355.

  • Keenan GS, Childs L, Rogers PJ, Hetherington MM, Brunstrom JM. The portion size effect: Women demonstrate an awareness of eating more than intended when served larger than normal portions. Appetite, 2018, 126: 54-60.

  • Hetherington MM & Blundell-Birtill P. The portion size effect and overconsumption – towards downsizing solutions for children and adolescents. Nutrition Bulletin, 2018, 43, 61-68.

  • Fisher JO, Goran M, Rowe S, Hetherington M. Forefronts in portion size – an overview and synthesis of a roundtable discussion. Appetite. 2015, 88:1-4.

  • Kral TVE & Hetherington MM. Variability in children’s eating response to portion size. A biobehavioral perspective, Appetite, 2015, 88:5-10. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.10.001

Food preference development

  • Nekitsing C, Blundell-Birtill P, Cockroft J, Hetherington MM. Systematic review and meta-analysis of strategies to increase vegetable consumption in preschool children aged 2-5 years. Appetite, 2018, 127:138-154. 

  • Nekitsing C, Hetherington MM, Blundell-Birtill P. Developing healthy food preferences in preschool children through taste exposure, sensory learning and nutrition education. Current Obesity Reports, 2018, 7: 60–67.

  • Vilela S, Oliveira A, Lopes C, Hetherington M. Tracking diet variety in childhood and its association with eating behaviours related to appetite: the Generation XXI birth cohort, Appetite, 2018, 123: 241-248.

  • Kleinman, RE, Greer F, Cowart BJ, Hetherington MM, Johnson, SL, Keller KL, Klurfeld K, Moshfegh AJ, Murray R, Welsh J,  Coletta FA, Marr L. The role of innate sweet taste perception in supporting a nutrient-dense diet for toddlers, 12 to 24 Months: Roundtable proceedings. Nutrition Today, 2017, 52, S14-S24.

  • Hetherington MM Understanding infant eating behaviour: Lessons learned from observation. Physiology & Behavior, 2017, 176, 117-124.

  • Hetherington MM. Nutrition in the early years – laying the foundations of healthy eating. Nutrition Bulletin (editorial), 2016, DOI: 10.1111/nbu.12232.

  • Chambers L, Hetherington M, Cooke L, Coulthard H, Fewtrell M, Emmett P, Lowdon J, Blissett J, Lanigan J, Baseley C, Stanner S. Reaching consensus on a ‘vegetables first’ approach to complementary feeding. British Nutrition Bulletin, 2016, 41, 270-276.

  • Hetherington M, Madrelle J, Nekitsing C, Barends C, de Graaf C, Morgan S, Parrott H, Weenen H. Developing a novel tool to assess liking and wanting in infants at the time of complementary feeding- the Feeding Infants: Behaviour and Facial Expression Coding System (FIBFECS), Food Quality and Preference, 2016, 40, 238-250.

  • Nekitsing C, Madrelle J, Barends C,  de Graaf C,  Morgan S,  Parrott H, Weenen H, Hetherington MM. Application and validation of the Feeding Infants: Behaviour and Facial Expression Coding System (IBFECS) to assess liking and wanting in infants at the time of complementary feeding, Food Quality and Preference, 2016, 40, 228-237.