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About the study

ENERGY (Energy, Neurosensory, and Eating Responses durinG pregnancY) is a longitudinal cohort study that is recruiting women who have never been pregnant and observing changes between women who become pregnant and those that do not over the next two years. Our study will follow women during their pregnancy and for up to one year afterwards in order to explore sensory, metabolic, and neural changes during pregnancy and how they affect psychology, physiology, and behaviour.

The purpose of the study is to understand how brain and sensory changes across all phases of reproduction (from pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy, to post-pregnancy) interact with metabolism and food-related behaviour. By studying these changes in pregnancy we will have a better understanding of how metabolism changes across the lifespan.

We are recruiting 230 women to take part in a longitudinal cohort study: 165 women who are planning to conceive in the next year and 65 women with no plans to conceive in the next two years.

Further information

Who are we?

The ENERGY longitudinal cohort is led by a multidisciplinary team with expertise in food science, psychology, neuropsychology, and biology and anatomy.

Mei Peng imageDr Mei Peng

Dr Mei Peng is the Principal Investigator of the project and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Food Science (University of Otago). Her research focuses on sensory, cognitive, and behavioural factors influencing eating. Her recent research has focused on the links between eating behaviour and various health conditions, including a recent study on the sensory links with postpartum depression in young mothers.

Dr Jessica McCormack

Dr Jessica McCormack is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Food Science (University of Otago). Her research has focused on behavioural psychology and public health, with recent work related to maternal alcohol consumption and public knowledge of FASD. Dr McCormack helped develop training material for the Healthy Start Project, which provides workforce development for midwives and other lead maternity carers.

Associate Professor Mike Garratt

Associate Professor Mike Garratt, Department of Anatomy (University of Otago). His research focuses on how reproduction influences life history, health and ageing in animals and observing the interactions between diet, metabolism, and macronutrient selection.

Dr Reece Roberts

Dr Reece Roberts is a Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Auckland with over 10 years of experience in neuroimaging research. Over the last few years, one of his interests was placed in the detection of neural biomarkers predicting the likelihood of a person to develop specific pathologies.

Professor John Hayes

Professor John Hayes leads a transdisciplinary programme in sensory science at Pennsylvania State University. His work applies a biobehavioural framework the integrates psychophysical and neurosensory science.

University of Otago Sensory Lab

Our study will take place at the University of Otago Sensory Lab where our team of researchers and students will conduct tests with participants on their sensory perception of different tastes, smells, touches, and sights.

Sensory Lab team image
University of Otago Sensory Lab group: (left to right) Dr Jessica McCormack, Sashie Abeywickrema (PhD candidate), Emily Doughty (Honours student), Dr Mei Peng, Dr Rachel Ginieis, and Stephanie McLeod (PhD candidate)

Inclusion statement

Our research team seeks to recruit, support, and retain members from diverse backgrounds and groups that have historically been underrepresented in the sciences. As a team we are committed to creating a environment where individuals feel supported and invested in our research mission.

News and publications

Searching for individual multi-sensory fingerprints and their links with adiposity – New insights from meta-analyses and empirical data
Food Quality and Preference, July 2022

Pregnancy diet study seeks metabolic clues
Otago Daily Times, 31 May 2022

Breakfast affects day's food choice: study
Otago Daily Times, 19 May 2022

Further information

If you would like to learn more about our study, please read the participant information sheet or get in touch with us by email:

ENERGY study participant information sheet (PDF)


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