Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD

W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor
Department of Nutrition
Vice Chancellor for Research
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
123 W. Franklin Street
Building C, Suite 210, Room 2123
CB #8120
Chapel Hill, NC 27514


Penny Gordon-Larsen is the W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in Nutrition and the Vice Chancellor for Research. She has been a Carolina faculty member since 2002.

Gordon-Larsen’s research focuses on the linkages between biology, behavior, and environment to inform efforts to prevent, manage, and treat obesity and associated cardiometabolic diseases. She has served as principal investigator or co-principal investigator research totaling over $23.6 million and has served as a co-investigator on an additional $49.1M interdisciplinary research team projects with collaborators. Her NIH-funded research portfolio ranges from molecular and genetic to environmental and societal-level factors that influence health and obesity and its cardiometabolic consequences. She also leads the “Heterogeneity in Obesity Creativity Hub: Transdisciplinary Approaches for Precision Research and Treatment,” a large, collaborative project with 27 faculty from 16 departments, six schools, and five centers and institutes. The project focuses on understanding why two people who consume the same diets and exercise can have vastly 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. Gordon-Larsen received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and anthropology from Tulane University and her master’s and doctoral degrees in Human Biology from the University of Pennsylvania. She has authored more than 270 scientific papers in leading peer-review journals. Her work has been cited over 103,000 times with an h-index of 86. She served as president of The Obesity Society in 2015 and a member of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Advisory Council from 2020 to 2023. She also served on the 2020–2030 Strategic Plan for NIH Nutrition Research Thought Leaders Panel, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Strategic Plan Working Group, and the NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Integration Working Group.

In 2022 she was named interim vice chancellor for research and in 2023 she became the University’s permanent vice chancellor. Prior to serving as the vice chancellor for research, she served as associate dean for research at Gillings, where she led research strategy for the nation’s top public school of public health.

As vice chancellor for research, Gordon-Larsen develops, sets strategic direction, and provides support for UNC’s $1.12 billion research enterprise. She is responsible for research infrastructure, operations, and regulatory compliance, research development, research translation, and research communications, and strategic research partnerships. In addition, she oversees 13 pan-campus, inter-disciplinary research centers and institutes. She works across campus with the University’s research deans, center/ and institute directors, and key institutional leaders to strategically advance Carolina’s research enterprise.

Penny Gordon-Larsen in the Gillings News

Honors and Awards

NIDDK Advisory Council
2020-2023, NIH, National institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

NIH Council of Councils Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Integration Working Group
2021-2022, National Institutes of Health

George A. Bray Founders Award
2020, The Obesity Society

NIH Nutrition Research Strategic Plan Thought Leader Panel
2018-2020, National Institutes of Health

Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health
2012-2016, American Heart Association

Associate Editor
2011-present, Pediatric Obesity

Associate Editor
2010-2020, Nutrition and Diabetes

Associate Editor
2008-2020, Annals of Human Biology

Associate Editor
2010-2016, Health and Place

Associate Editor
2007-2010, Annals of Behavioral Medicine

Associate Editor
2003-2013, Obesity

Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic
2012-2016, Health American Heart Association

Chair, Kidney, Nutrition, Obesity and Diabetes Study Section
2016-2019, NIH, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

2015, The Obesity Society

Editor's Choice Reviewer Award
2010, 2005, Obesity

Eli Lilly Scientific Achievement Award
2010, The Obesity Society

Delta Omega Society
2005, UNC-Chapel Hill

Key Publications

Association of adolescent obesity with risk of severe obesity in adulthood. The, N. S., Suchindran, C., North, K. E., Popkin, B. M., & Gordon-Larsen, P. (2010). JAMA, 304(18), 2042-2047.

Recent urbanization in China is correlated with a Westernized microbiome encoding increased virulence and antibiotic resistance genes.  Winglee, K., Howard, A. G., Sha, W., Gharaibeh, R., Liu, J., Jin, D., Fodor, A., Gordon-Larsen, P. (2017). Microbiome, 5(1), 121.

Obesity as a Disease, Not a Behavior. Gordon-Larsen P., Heymsfield S.B. (2018). Circulation, 137(15), 1543-1545.

Loss of Novel Diversity in Human Gut Microbiota Associated with Ongoing Urbanization in China.  Sun S, Wang H, Howard AG, Zhang J, Su C, Wang Z, Du S, Fodor AA*, Gordon-Larsen P*, Zhang B.* (2022). mSystems, 7(4).

Instrumental variables simultaneous equations model of physical activity and body mass index: the CARDIA study.  Meyer, K., Guilkey, D., Tien, H. C., Kiefe, C., Popkin, B., & Gordon-Larsen, P. (2016). Am J Epidemiol, 184(6), 465-76.

Strengthening Causal Inference in Exposomics Research: Application of Genetic Data and Methods. Avery CL, Howard AG, Ballou AF, Buchanan VL, Collins JM, Downie CG, Engel SM, Graff M, Highland HM, Lee MP, Lilly AG, Lu K, Rager JE, Staley BS, North KE, Gordon-Larsen P. (2022). Environ Health Perspect, 130(5).


  • Post-Doc, Nutritional Epidemiology, UNC-CH, 2000
  • PhD, Human Biology (Physical Anthropology), University of Pennsylvania, 1997
  • BA, Anthropology & Psychology, Tulane University, 1989