News media around the world have really bitten into URI Professor Kathleen Melanson’s ideas about the connection between speed and obesity. The speed of eating that is.

Professor Melanson is an associate professor of nutrition and food sciences and director of URI’s Energy Balance Laboratory. Her landmark study in 2007 confirmed the popular dietary belief that eating slowly reduced calorie intake. Since then, her research team of grad and undergrad students has provided new insights into how the speed of eating may affect a person’s body mass index. They’ve helped clarify the critical distinction between simply prolonging a meal’s duration and truly eating slower. This discovery’s changing dietary recommendations everywhere. And they’ve found a relationship between eating pace and body weight in young American adults.  Her work is now inspiring her team to test things like how slow-eating techniques might affect appetite and weight loss.

For example, after finding that men eat faster than women, that heavier people eat faster than slimmer people, “one theory we are pursuing is that fast eating may be related to greater energy needs, since men and heavier people have higher energy needs,” she said. They also found that refined grains are eaten faster than whole grains – news that’s pretty hard to miss these days. But Professor Melanson’s research may help explain why. “Whole grains are more fibrous, so you have to chew them more, which takes more time, so you eat them more slowly,” she said.

Her studies on chewing foods led her to investigate chewing gum.  In 2009, she found that people who chewed sugar-free gum for one hour in the morning in three 20-minute sessions consumed fewer calories throughout the rest of the day and felt more energetic than when they did not chew gum. “Gum chewing integrates energy expenditure and energy intake, and that’s what energy balance is about,” she said.

Global news have taken notice. Her work’s been featured in Cosmopolitan, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Medical Daily, the London Daily Mail, Scottish Daily Express, Times of India, and Medical News Today, among other print, radio, and television news outlets.

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URI Energy Balance Laboratory