Advancing Obesity Solutions through Integrated Research

Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD, is a leader in obesity research, currently serving as the Vice Chancellor for Research at UNC-Chapel Hill. Learn more about her research and leadership roles.
The Gordon-Larsen Research Group studies the integration of biology, behaviors and environments to inform efforts to prevent, manage, and treat obesity. We use trans-disciplinary, multilevel and pathway-based approaches to answer questions about the roles of molecular, genetic, biological, behavioral, and environmental factors that shape obesity and its consequences. We are particularly interested in understanding why some people who are affected by obesity do not have cardiometabolic diseases, while others do. We are also interested in why two people who consume the same diets and exercise equally can have very different susceptibility to weight gain, with the aim of developing treatment approaches that go far beyond the “one-size-fits-all” approach that is so common.

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Over the past 30 years, we have contributed to over 300 projects, scholarly articles, book chapters, and studies, disseminating our findings on obesity's complex causes and potential solutions.
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Navigating the Complexity of Obesity

Integrating biology, behavior, and environment to advance understanding of mechanisms underlying obesity


The molecular and genetic landscape of disease is complex in a multifactorial disease like obesity. We seek to identify genetic and molecular underpinnings of weight and metabolic health (and how they interplay with environmental factors), setting the foundation for future personalized treatment strategies.


Obesity-related health behaviors are complex and are shaped by biological, social, and environmental factors. We aim to identify factors that make healthy choices the easy choices so we can provide insights into how lifestyle decisions impact weight and cardiometabolic health.


The spaces we inhabit shape our health outcomes in profound ways. We investigate environmental factors that serve as barriers, facilitators, or exposures that impact obesity and health behaviors. We use novel methodologies to examine pathways from environments to behaviors and on to obesity and cardiometabolic diseases.