Johns Hopkins, Yale, Duke receive $2.5M NIH grant to study predictors of childhood obesity

National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, a program of the National Institutes of Health, awarded five institutions a five-year $2.5 million grant to research how stress during pregnancy influences childhood obesity, Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University announced Nov. 15.

The collaborating organizations include Johns Hopkins University; St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital; Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University affiliate Kennedy Krieger Institute; New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University; and Durham, N.C.-based Duke University. The institutions plan to recruit 470 mothers for the study.

Researchers will collect data on the mothers' experiences, including their stressors and support systems, and will follow the children's growth patterns during their first two years of life. The study goal is to determine how significant stress and social adversity during pregnancy influences gene expression, and whether that impacts the development of obesity in their children.

"This is an area called 'social epigenetics,' where we study how early life experiences can cause some genes to be silenced or to be more active over time," said Sara Johnson, PhD, a principal investigator on the project and an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "We are testing the hypothesis that prenatal stress is associated with changes in genes that are involved in growth and metabolism in offspring."

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