URBANA, Ill. - Leann L. Birch, a former head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) at University of Illinois, and internationally renowned pioneer in the study of children’s eating behaviors, passed away on May 26, in Durham, North Carolina. She was 72 years old.
Birch joined the HDFS faculty in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I in 1976. She spent 16 years at Illinois establishing her renowned research program and advancing through the ranks to become professor and head, as well as a professor of nutritional sciences.
In 1992, she became professor and head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, titles she held for more than a decade, along with an appointment in the Graduate Program of Nutritional Sciences. In 2003, Leann was named Distinguished Professor of Human Development. In 2004, she became a professor of pediatrics and of nutritional sciences at Penn State and director of the Center for Childhood Obesity Research.
In 2014, she joined the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia and was subsequently named the director of the campus-wide Obesity Initiative.
Birch’s research set the course for an entire field of study on the development of food acceptance patterns and behavioral controls of food intake from infancy through adolescence. Landmark studies from her lab were numerous and included a host of experiments that were among the first to establish the effects of repeated exposure, associative conditioning, social influences, portion size, and energy density on young children’s food preferences and regulation of food intake.
Her work has advanced the science of early obesity prevention. More than four decades of seminal experimental and longitudinal findings from her laboratory have been used to develop successful, evidence-based childhood obesity prevention programs.
Birch is survived by her husband, Karl Newell, and their two children, Charlotte and Spencer.