SELF-CONTAINED SYSTEM FOR HUMAN INFANT FEEDING REINFORCEMENT
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Obesity is a well-known health problem in adults but is a problem that exists with children and infants as well. Research suggests that studying sucking behavior in infants can provide keys to determining if they will become obese in adulthood. Sucking activity can be used as an indicator in infants of how hard they will work for food, and this is defined as the reinforcing value of food. Additionally, research suggests that early sucking patterns predict childhood obesity, so the ability to measure these is key in better understanding this phenomenon. However, there are few devices that enable easy, at-home measurement of sucking activity, and no technologies for measuring food reinforcement in young infants, which impedes progress on research on the development of food reward. There are studies that show that obese infants and preschoolers are more willing to work to obtain the food than non-obese infants, the research on the origins of food reinforcement is limited. Thus, more research into how food reinforcement develops in infants is needed so that the reasons for obesity can be known earlier and then prevented in adulthood. There has been work done to examine food reinforcement on infants aged between 9 and 18 months by measuring how much the infant was willing to work for the food with respect to the total work done by the infant for both food and non-food alternatives using different developmental schedules. For the study outlined in, the food is solid food. How-ever, there is a lack of research into infants prior to 9 months.A bottle (sucking) device is appropriate for infants younger than 9 months for food reinforcement measurements because infants are not developmentally ready to perform standard, computer-based tasks (which typically require pressing a mouse button to elicit feedback). In this thesis, we present a device IOBottle which is the first untethered direct intraoral pressure measurement device that can be used to monitor infant feeding. We also present INFERS (INfant FEeding Reinforcement System) that enables researchers to study food reinforcement in infants younger than nine months (in particular 3-6 months old). The device controls the delivery of milk (infant formula or breast milk) to the infant based on the sucking pressure and sucking activity of the infant. We provide the details of the device we have developed and include results and analysis of the data obtained from the device.