Childhood obesity, growth, development and health

Southampton pioneered work showing that nutrition from the earliest stages in life changes our disease risk througout life, starting with our mother’s diet before and during pregnancy, through infancy, childhood and adolescence. Our research aims to improve life chances and prevent obesity, diabetes and heart disease from the earliest days.


Key investigator: Prof Mark Hanson

Professor Mark Hanson leads the Centre’s programme on the role of nutrition in development, childhood and adolescence. He leads our innovative LifeLab programme, and has a particular focus on influencing health policy to prevent non-communicable diseases, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

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Prevention of childhood obesity and disease 

Prof Keith Godfrey

Our research aims to prevent childhood obesity by identifying risk factors and biological processes before conception and in pregnancy that are altered by nutrition and lifestyle.

Working with the families engaged in our research, a key focus here is defining links between the environment in the womb, processes that control how our genes work (‘epigenetics’), and childhood obesity. Other work in preconception, pregnancy planning and the role of diet and nutritional supplements before and during pregnancy further supports prevention of obesity and other metabolic diseases.

Predicting obesity and improving diagnoses

Prof Keith Godfrey

Working with the BRC Data Science cross-cutting theme, we are looking for new markers in pregnancy that are linked to the mother’s diet and lifestyle, and predict the development of obesity and other diseases in their children.

We are expanding our epigenetic work to develop testable profiles of epigenetic and microbial characteristics that reliably predict obesity risk and cognitive development, and use our new understanding of gut microbiota to identify ways to prevent food allergies and asthma.

Participatory research through LifeLab

Prof Mark Hanson

Lifelab is our unique educational facility for promoting science engagement and health literacy in adolescent students, assessing impacts on participants' health choices, their health and the health of their future children. We are expanding LifeLab to include primary-age children, and piloting a population-wide extension to assess the impact on obesity across generations.

Personalising nutritional care

Prof Nick Macklon and Prof Sarah Ennis

Prof Nick Macklon is leading efforts to design and pilot new personalised pre-conception approaches in both women and men. Professor Sarah Ennis is working with the Data Science cross-cutting theme to combine clinical and research data in children with inflammatory bowel disorders to personalise treatments for this challenging childhood disorder.

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