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Focus Carolina: Penny Gordon-Larsen


January 5, 2021

This piece was originally published in The Well. Gordon-Larsen, a Faculty Fellow at CPC, leads the Obesity Creativity Hub, a diverse group of researchers from nutrition to behavioral health to data science who are working collaboratively to solve the challenge of obesity.

Penny Gordon-Larsen
Penny Gordon-Larsen leads the Obesity Hub, which was created as part of a UNC Research platform to bring researchers together to solve major societal problems. (Megan May/UNC Research)

Penny Gordon-Larsen of the Gillings School of Global Public Health leads the Obesity Creativity Hub, a diverse group of researchers from nutrition to behavioral health to data science who work collaboratively to solve the challenge of obesity. This team is working to go beyond one-size-fits-all to predicting the optimum approach for each patient.

Officially called the Heterogeneity in Obesity Creativity Hub: Transdisciplinary Approaches for Precision Research and Treatment, the hub was created as part of a UNC Research platform to bring researchers together to solve major societal problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 42% of adults were obese in 2017-2018, the year for which the most recent data is available. In North Carolina, the prevalence of obesity is 33%, up from 20% in 2000.

Understanding obesity involves far more than the amount of food people consume and the level of exercise they get, she said.

Gordon-Larsen, the Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of Global Nutrition, attributes sedentary lifestyles and the habit of eating away from home and larger portion sizes on the considerable amount of weight gain.

Obesity is a complex disease that is studied from a molecular and genetic level to the societal and policy level factors that influence behavior and food purchasing and physical activity for individuals across the entire globe, she said.

“One thing that we do know is that once you start to gain weight, it is difficult to lose the weight,” Gordon-Larsen said. “The best thing we can do is really prevent people from that initial weight gain and to help people maintain their body weight at a healthy level.”

Every day, faculty members at UNC-Chapel Hill engage in groundbreaking research, innovative teaching and public service that makes an impact in our community and the state, nation and the world.

Tune in to Focus Carolina during morning, noon and evening drive times and on the weekends to hear their stories and find out what ignites their passion for their work. Focus Carolina is an exclusive program on WCHL, sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You can listen to WCHL at 97.9 FM or 1360 AM.