The prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults has quadrupled during the past 40 years. The alarming rise in body weight has likely occurred because the current environment affords easy access to calorie-dense foods and requires less voluntary energy expenditure. However, this environment leads to obesity only in those individuals whose body weight–regulatory systems are not able to control body adiposity with sufficient precision in our high-calorie/low-activity environment, suggesting that there are subgroups in the U.S. that have a uniquely high susceptibility to weight gain under prevailing environmental conditions. The primary goal of the Section on Growth and Obesity is to elucidate the genetic underpinnings of the metabolic and behavioral endophenotypes that contribute to the development of obesity in children. Drawing on our unique, longitudinal cohorts of children who have undergone intensive metabolic and behavioral phenotyping, we examine genetic and phenotypic factors predictive of progression to adult obesity in children who have obesity and among those at high-risk for adult obesity but who have not yet developed obesity, allowing characterization of phenotypes unconfounded by the impact of obesity itself. Once identified as linked to obesity, genetic variants that impair gene function undergo intensive study. Such approaches are expected to improve our ability to predict which children are at greatest risk for obesity and its comorbid conditions and to lead to more targeted, etiology-based prevention and treatment strategies for pediatric obesity.
Jack A. Yanovski, M.D., Ph.D. is Chief of the Section on Growth and Obesity in the Division of Intramural Rsearch. Dr. Yanovski obtained his medical degree in 1986 at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was also awarded a Ph.D. in Physiological Psychology in 1989. After residency training in Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Yanovski completed a fellowship in Pediatric Endocrinology at the NIH, conducting clinical and basic research with Dr. Gordon Cutler in the Developmental Endocrinology Branch, where he developed the dexamethasone-suppressed ovine corticotropin-releasing hormone test for the differential diagnosis of hypercortisolism. This test has become part of the standard armamentarium of tests used by endocrinologists. Dr. Yanovski remained at the NIH to serve as Chief of Pediatrics for the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center from 1994-1998. In response to the growing problem of pediatric obesity, Dr. Yanovski returned to NICHD to create the Unit on Growth and Obesity in the NICHD’s Developmental Endocrinology Branch and serve as its Head. Dr. Yanovski has carried out a series of clinical studies related to the evaluation and treatment of overweight and obesity in children and adults, as well as laboratory investigations of the molecular etiologies of obesity. His randomized controlled trials have elucidated the limitations of current pharmacotherapeutic approaches for treatment of pediatric obesity and his observational studies have demonstrated the importance of disinhibited eating behaviors for pediatric obesity. His lab has also elucidated the roles of the melanocortin 3 receptor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor in human body weight regulation. Dr. Yanovski has authored or co-authored over 350 manuscripts and has served as a regular reviewer for the New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, JAMA, and many other journals. He has served as a standing member of the NSCF, NIH Study Section, as a consultant for FDA advisory panels, and on the editorial boards of several obesity, pediatric, and endocrine journals. Dr. Yanovski has also served as Chair of The Obesity Society’s annual Scientific Meeting. Among other awards, he has received the Public Health Service’s Outstanding Service Medal for innovative studies on obesity, the NIH Director’s Ruth L. Kirschstein Mentoring Award, and both the Thomas A. Wadden Award for Distinguished Mentorship and the Bar-Or Award for Excellence in Pediatric Obesity Research from The Obesity Society.
- Feng N, Young SF, Aguilera G, Puricelli E, Adler-Wailes DC, Sebring NG, Yanovski JA. Co-occurrence of two partially inactivating polymorphisms of MC3R is associated with pediatric-onset obesity. Diabetes. 2005;54(9):2663-7.
- Han JC, Liu QR, Jones M, Levinn RL, Menzie CM, Jefferson-George KS, Adler-Wailes DC, Sanford EL, Lacbawan FL, Uhl GR, Rennert OM, Yanovski JA. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and obesity in the WAGR syndrome. N Engl J Med. 2008;359(9):918-27.
- Lee B, Koo J, Yun Jun J, Gavrilova O, Lee Y, Seo AY, Taylor-Douglas DC, Adler-Wailes DC, Chen F, Gardner R, Koutzoumis D, Sherafat Kazemzadeh R, Roberson RB, Yanovski JA. A mouse model for a partially inactive obesity-associated human MC3R variant. Nat Commun. 2016;7:10522.
- Yanovski JA, Krakoff J, Salaita CG, McDuffie JR, Kozlosky M, Sebring NG, Reynolds JC, Brady SM, Calis KA. Effects of metformin on body weight and body composition in obese insulin-resistant children: a randomized clinical trial. Diabetes. 2011;60(2):477-85.
- Haws R, Brady S, Davis E, Fletty K, Yuan G, Gordon G, Stewart M, Yanovski J. Effect of setmelanotide, a melanocortin-4 receptor agonist, on obesity in Bardet-Biedl syndrome. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2020;22(11):2133-2140.
Related Scientific Focus Areas
Genetics and Genomics
Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Social and Behavioral Sciences
This page was last updated on Tuesday, November 1, 2022