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Understanding Risk and Causal Mechanisms for Developing Obesity in Infants and Young Children

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Event Details Agenda Abstracts

Event Details


Obesity in children continues to increase and to be a major public health problem, with the prevalence among youth ages to 2–19 years estimated to be nearly 20 percent. Racial and ethnic disparities in prevalence remain significant, with non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic children having higher rates of obesity than non-Hispanic White children. Children from families of low socioeconomic status also are disproportionately affected.

The development of obesity is multifactorial, but ultimately it is driven by numerous factors (genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and environmental) that favor a positive energy balance. As such, several behavioral and lifestyle obesity-prevention and treatment interventions for children that target diet and activity have been tested, yet most of these interventions show only modest favorable changes in body mass index, which are not sustained. Substantial inter-individual differences exist in response to interventions, but we cannot reliably predict who will or will not respond to a given intervention strategy.

Furthermore, a substantial proportion of children who have obesity early in life will continue to have obesity in later years, and studies have shown that accelerated growth patterns during infancy and early childhood are associated with a higher risk of overweight or obesity in adolescence and adulthood. High-risk growth trajectories or patterns emerge during infancy and early childhood and tend to persist, suggesting that this is a critical period in the development of overweight and obesity. Significant progress has been made in identifying behavioral, biological, psychosocial, and environmental factors that place children at a higher or lower risk of developing obesity. For example, epidemiologic studies have provided evidence that the development of obesity and other chronic diseases begins in utero. Pre-pregnancy obesity, obesity during pregnancy, excessive weight gain during pregnancy, and gestational diabetes all contribute to obesity risk during infancy and childhood and to the risk of chronic diseases in offspring. However, current risk-prediction models that incorporate both known gene variants and maternal risk factors, as well as early life traditional risk factors, are not accurate enough to predict or distinguish who will or will not develop obesity. The complex mechanisms that underlie how these risk factors contribute to excess weight gain or adiposity within individuals are not well understood and need to be investigated.

Meeting Objectives

The overall goal of this trans-NIH workshop is to accelerate research to better characterize early-life risk factors and determine underlying causal mechanisms through which these factors contribute to the development of obesity during childhood.

This meeting will bring together scientists with expertise in systems biology, genetics, pediatric obesity, endocrinology, epidemiology, computational biology, neuropsychology, developmental psychology, behavioral medicine, and other disciplines to discuss (1) what is known regarding the epidemiology and underlying biological and behavioral mechanisms for rapid weight gain and the development of obesity in early life and (2) what new approaches, such as the use of integrated omics, can be or have been used to improve risk prediction and gain novel insights into the causes of obesity in early life. Participants will identify gaps, opportunities, and approaches for future research to better characterize risk and identify causal mechanisms for the development of obesity in early life. Ultimately, this research can inform the development of innovative, targeted, and more effective strategies for childhood obesity prevention.


This workshop is supported by funds from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Workshop Co-Chairs

Shari L. Barkin, M.D., M.S.H.S.
William K. Warren Foundation Chair in Medicine
Marian Wright Edelman Professor of Pediatrics
Director, Division of General Pediatrics
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Charles F. Burant, M.D., Ph.D.
Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Professor of Metabolism
Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular and Integrative Physiology
Director, University of Michigan Metabolomics and Obesity Center
Director of the Taubman Institute
University of Michigan School of Medicine

Susan Carnell, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

National Institutes Of Health Organizing Committee Members

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Voula Osganian, M.D., Sc.D., M.P.H. (Chair)
Susan Yanovski, M.D.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Andrew Bremer, M.D., Ph.D., M.A.S.
Ashley Vargas, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.N.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Charlotte Pratt, Ph.D., R.D.

Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research
Christine Hunter, Ph.D., ABPP
Deborah Young-Hyman, Ph.D.

Office of Disease Prevention
Jacqueline Lloyd, Ph.D., M.S.W.

Registration Deadline

April 22, 2021

Event Logistics


Registration Closed
Registration ended



The web link needed to join this webinar will be distributed via email prior to the date of the event.


Program Contact
Voula Osganian
Program Director
T: 301-827-6939

Meeting Logistics
Danielle Johnikin
The Scientific Consulting Group, Inc.
T: 301-670-4990

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