Penny Gordon-Larsen

Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD

Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of Global Nutrition
Department of Nutrition
Vice Chancellor for Research
Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research
123 W. Franklin Street
Building C, Suite 210, Room 2123
CB #8120
Chapel Hill, NC 27514


Penny Gordon-Larsen is the Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of Global Nutrition where her research focuses on the linkages between biology, behavior, and environment to inform efforts to prevent, manage, and treat obesity and associated cardiometabolic diseases. She currently serves as Vice Chancellor for Research where she oversees, develops, sets strategic direction and provides support for UNC’s $1.2 billion research enterprise.
She is trained as a human biologist. Her portfolio ranges from molecular and genetic to environmental and societal-level factors that influence health. She served as President of The Obesity Society in 2015 and received the Eli Lilly Scientific Achievement Award in 2010 and the George A. Bray Founders Award in 2020, both from The Obesity Society. She served on the NIH Nutrition Research Thought Leaders Panel and as Chair for the NIH Kidney, Nutrition, Obesity and Diabetes Study Section. From 2018 to 2022, she served as the Gillings School's associate dean for research where she led a schoolwide research program of approximately $200 million in research funding each year. She currently serves on the NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases advisory council and co-chairs the NIDDK's Strategic Plan Dissemination and Implementation Research Subgroup.
She 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 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. 

Penny Gordon-Larsen in the Gillings News

Honors and Awards

NIDDK Advisory Council
2019-2022, NIH, National institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

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

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

Food availability/convenience and obesity. Penny Gordon-Larsen (2014). Advances in Nutrition, 5(6), 809-817.

Eighteen year weight trajectories and metabolic markers of diabetes in modernising China. Linda Adair, Penny Gordon-Larsen, Amy Herring, Annie Howard, Elizabeth Koehler, Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, Lauren Paynter, Barry Popkin, Amanda Thompson, Bing Zhang (2014). Diabetologia.

Accounting for Selectivity Bias and Correlation Across the Sequence From Elevated Blood Pressure to Hypertension Diagnosis and Treatment. P. Gordon-Larsen, S. M. Attard, A. G. Howard, B. M. Popkin, B. Zhang, S. Du, D. K. Guilkey Am J Hypertens, 31(1), 63-71.

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

BMI loci and longitudinal BMI from adolescence to young adulthood in an ethnically diverse cohort. M Graff, K North, A Richardson, K Young, A Mazul, H Highland, K Mohlke, L Lange, E Lange, K Mullan Harris, P Gordon-Larsen (2017). International journal of obesity (2005).


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