Donna Spruijt-Metz

Expert on diet, body image, and obesity in children and adolescents

Assistant professor, Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research, Keck School of Medicine


  • childhood and adolescent obesity
  • obesity and health in minority youth
  • diet
  • body image
  • why we eat what we eat
  • what specific foods do to us
  • motivating children and adolescents to be physically active
  • measuring physical activity
  • the effects of stress and the built environment on obesity
  • insulin dynamics
  • hormones and gut peptides and behavior
  • cortisol and obesity
  • adolescent psychosocial development and health
  • reward systems and energy balance
  • theory-driven interventions to prevent and treat obesity in youth

Additional Information


      Donna Spruijt-Metz’s research focuses on human motivation and adolescent health, particularly in the areas of diet and physical activity. Why do adolescents participate in behaviors (such as eating junk food) that they know may negatively impact their health and well being, and shun behaviors (such as exercise) that they know might help them reach their personal goals?

Current research includes a longitudinal study of the impact of puberty on insulin dynamics, mood and physical activity in African American and Latina girls, and a study on the impact of strength and circuit training and nutrition education on metabolic health in African American and Latino youth. These studies are part of the USC Center for Trandisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer. A recently completed pilot study looked at the acute impact of simple carbohydrate meals versus complex carbohydrate meals on behavior, insulin dynamics, select gut peptides, and psychosocial measures. This study yielded some of the first empirical evidence for the “sugar rush.”

Spruijt-Metz is currently conducting a study in partnership with University of Minnesota on the longitudinal impact on insulin dynamics, mood and behavior of high-sugar breakfasts versus low-sugar ones in overweight Latino populations. She is also interested in how stress affects the lives of adolescents, with a current focus on emotional eating and body image concerns. Intervention modalities that she is exploring with colleagues in Preventive Medicine and Pediatrics include Guided Imagery and motivational interviewing, in combination with home-based and group-based nutrition and physical activity interventions. Another ongoing study is on motivations for drug and alcohol use in college students.

Spruijt-Metz holds master’s degrees in flute performance from both the California Institute of the Arts and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, a master’s degree in creative writing from Otis College of Art and Design, a master’s degree in research methods from the University of Amsterdam and a Ph.D. in adolescent health from the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Before her return to the United States, she held a tenured position in the Department of Medical Ethics at Vrije Universiteit, where she studied the ethics of public health interventions in minority populations. She is also a professional flutist and has served on the board of the Dutch National Flute Association.


  • Dutch

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