Support The World's Smartest Network

Help the New York Academy of Sciences bring late-breaking scientific information about the COVID-19 pandemic to global audiences. Please make a tax-deductible gift today.

This site uses cookies.
Learn more.


This website uses cookies. Some of the cookies we use are essential for parts of the website to operate while others offer you a better browsing experience. You give us your permission to use cookies, by continuing to use our website after you have received the cookie notification. To find out more about cookies on this website and how to change your cookie settings, see our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

We encourage you to learn more about cookies on our site in our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

Early-Life Influences on Obesity: From Pre-Conception to Adolescence

Early-Life Influences on Obesity: From Pre-Conception to Adolescence

Friday, September 26, 2014

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By


The double-burden of under- and overnutrition has grave effects on human health globally. According to the World Health Organization (2013), obesity and diabetes rates have almost doubled since 1980 worldwide and more than 40 million children under 5 were overweight in 2011. Factors such as maternal nutrition, paternal genetic contributions, and the intrauterine environment play a role in diabesity. This conference will examine the roles of pre-conception and generational effects of nutrition; intrauterine environment and 'programming'; and re-setting the program after birth in development of chronic disease later in life. Global experts from the fields of maternal nutrition, obesity, the microbiome, metabolic disorders, and fetal development will discuss factors affecting obesity rates.

*A reception will follow the conference.

Registration Pricing

 By 09/16/2014After 09/16/2014Onsite
Student/Postdoc Member$15$30$55
Nonmember (Academia)$40$70$100
Nonmember (Corporate)$75$100$125
Nonmember (Non-profit)$40$70$100
Nonmember (Student / Postdoc / Fellow)$20$40$70


Presented by

  • NYAS
  • Sackler


* Presentation titles are subject to change.

September 26, 2014

8:30 AM

Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:00 AM

Opening Remarks
Mandana Arabi, MD, PhD, The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science

Session 1: Pre-conception and Generational Effects of Nutrition

Session Chair: John G. Kral, MD, PhD, SUNY Downstate Medical Center

9:10 AM

Weight Management in Transitional Economies: An Ecosystem Health Dilemma
Mark Lawrence Wahlqvist, MD, Zhejiang University

9:40 AM

Intended and Unintended Pregnancies: The Role of Socioeconomic Inequities
Lawrence B. Finer, PhD, Guttmacher Institute

9:55 AM

Paternal Contributions: The Role of RNA in Sperm
Stephen A. Krawetz, PhD, Wayne State University School of Medicine

10:10 AM

Transgenerational Response to Nutrition, Early Life Circumstances, and Longevity
Nico S. Rizzo, PhD, Loma Linda University

10:25 AM

Panel Discussion

Panel Moderator: John G. Kral, MD, PhD, SUNY Downstate Medical Center
Lawrence B. Finer, PhD, Guttmacher Institute
Stephen A. Krawetz, PhD, Wayne State University School of Medicine
Nico S. Rizzo, PhD, Loma Linda University

10:45 AM

Networking Break

11:05 AM

The Microbiome and Global Health
Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, PhD, New York University School of Medicine

11:40 AM

Offspring Effects of Maternal Exercise Before and During Gestation
Linda M Szymanski, MD, PhD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

12:05 PM


Session 2: Intrauterine Environment and ‘Programming’

Session Chair: Blandine Laferrère, MD, Columbia University

1:05 PM

IOM Workshop: Examining a Developmental Approach to Childhood Obesity and Potential Translational Opportunities
Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

1:20 PM

Nutritional Influences on Human Developmental Epigenetics 
Robert A. Waterland, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine

1:45 PM

Ontogeny of Taste Preferences: Basic Biology and Health Implications
Julie A. Mennella, PhD, Monell Chemical Senses Center

2:10 PM

Obesigenic Effects of Developmental Programming
Mina Desai, PhD, University of California Los Angeles Medical Center

2:40 PM

Breast Feeding: Molecules, Nutrients, and Context
Nancy F. Krebs, MD, University of Colorado School of Medicine

3:05 PM

Networking Break

Session 3: Re-setting the Program: Neonatal to Adolescence

Session Chair: Karen Teff, PhD, National Institutes of Health

3:35 PM

Appetite as a Susceptibility Factor in Obesity Risk
Jane Wardle, PhD, University College London

4:05 PM

Exercise and Neurodegeneration: A Potential Therapeutic Role for FNDC5/irisin
Christiane Wrann, DVM, PhD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

4:35 PM

Windows of Opportunity: How Modifying Young Couples' Lifestyle Choices Could Prevent Diabetes in the Next Generations
Susanne Stormer, Novo Nordisk

4:50 PM

Urban Adolescent Fitness for the Next Generation
Nico S. Rizzo, PhD, Loma Linda University

5:15 PM

Closing Remarks
John G. Kral, MD, PhD, SUNY Downstate Medical Center
The Sackler Institute’s Obesity, Diabetes and Nutrition-related Diseases
Working Group Chair


Networking Reception



John G. Kral, MD, PhD

SUNY Downstate Medical Center
Working Group Chair

With an MA in Psychology, Dr. Kral attended medical school at the University of Göteborg, Sweden, specializing in Surgery and Medicine, completing PhD studies and initiating the obesity surgery program there. In 1981 he started the Division of Surgical Metabolism, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, Columbia University and in 1983 co-founded the American Society for Bariatric Surgery. Dr. Kral initiated and co-organized the 1991 NIH Consensus Development Conference: “Gastrointestinal Surgery for Severe Obesity”. With studies of body composition, adipose tissue receptors and lipid and carbohydrate metabolism his current interests include ingestive behavior, determinants of metabolic obesity, effects of gestational stress on urban health, the importance of the intrauterine environment and epigenetics. He is chair of the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science “Obesity, Diabetes and Nutrition-related diseases” working group at the New York Academy of Sciences. In 2012 The Obesity Society awarded Dr. Kral the AJ Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award.

Michael Gibney, PhD

University College Dublin

Michael Gibney, MAgrSc, MA, PhD, is Professor of Food and Health at University College Dublin and was founding Director of the UCD Institute of Food and Health. He is a former President of the Nutrition Society. He served on the EU Scientific Committee for Food from 1985 to 1997, chairing the Nutrition Group and then chaired the BSE working group as a Member of the Scientific Steering Committee of the EU from 1997 to 2000. He is a member of the scientific advisory committee of The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences and is a member of the Google Food Experience Innovation Laboratory at Mountain View. He has served on several WHO and FAO committees and has recently been appointed as Chair of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. His research interests lie in personalised nutrition, in public health nutrition and in probabilistic risk analysis. He is presently the coordinator of a major EU funded (€9m) research project on personalised nutrition ( and is also coordinator of a major nationally funded (€12m) project on “The National Nutrition Phenotype Database” ( Professor Gibney has served on the Faculties of the University of Sydney, the University of Southampton and Trinity College Dublin. He has published over 250 peer-reviewed papers. He blogs on food and health ( and has recently published a popular book on this topic.

Blandine Laferrère, MD

Columbia University

Blandine Laferrère, MD, is Associate Professor of Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Attending Physician in the Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes, and Member of the Columbia University New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center and the Diabetes Research Center. Her interest is the relation between weight changes and diabetes risk. The focus of her current research is to understand the mechanisms of improved beta cell function after surgical weight loss by gastric bypass surgery. Her laboratory has contributed to the understanding of the role of incretins as a mechanism of diabetes remission after bariatric surgery. Dr. Laferrère is a reviewer for many journals and grants agencies, including NIH. She has over 80 peer reviewed publications.

Andrew G. Swick, PhD

Metagenics, Inc.

Dr. Swick has broad experience in metabolism and nutrition research and expertise in relevant cell and animal models, clinical study design and translational research. He joined Metagenics, Inc. as Vice President of Nutritional Science in 2013 and is responsible for science and innovation across Obesity, Cardiometabolic, Digestive Health, CNS/Cognition and Foundational Health with a focus on diagnostics and novel solutions utilizing nutrients, functional foods and nutraceuticals. Prior to that he was at University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute and was an associate professor and Director of Obesity and Eating Disorders Research. While at UNC his two main areas of research were: 1) gut metabolism as it relates to obesity and metabolic diseases and the regulation of gut peptide release and 2) body weight and energy expenditure in humans with an emphasis on variability in energy metabolism in response to diet, exercise and nutraceuticals. Before joining the University of North Carolina, Dr. Swick was Senior Director of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases at Pfizer Global Research and Development his work was primarily in the area of metabolic diseases and obesity, focusing on the molecular mechanisms that regulate body weight and obesity-associated comorbidities with an eye on the translation of preclinical results to the clinic. Dr. Swick was responsible for the delivery of more than a dozen unique therapies to clinical development, spanning multiple mechanisms across obesity and diabetes. In addition to nearly 40 published manuscripts, and over 25 invited presentations he is an inventor on 10 granted patents. He is an elected member of several professional organizations and currently serves on the New York Academy of Sciences Overnutrition Steering Committee and the Nutrition Research Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Swick earned a PhD in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Wisconsin, an MS in Nutrition from the University of Nebraska and a BS in Animal Science from the University of Florida. In addition, he received postdoctoral training at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center and the University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Research Center.

Karen Teff, PhD

National Institutes of Health

Dr. Karen Teff is the program director for bariatric surgery, gestational diabetes and hypoglycemia within the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Previously, she was a member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and held an adjunct position at the University of Pennsylvania where she was Director of the Clinical and Translational Research Center and Director of the translational research program within the Diabetes Research Center. Her primary area of expertise is on the neural control of glucose homeostasis in the pathophysiology of human obesity and diabetes.

Mandana Arabi, MD, PhD

Executive Director, The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science

Dr. Arabi is a Medical Doctor with a PhD in Nutrition Sciences from Cornell University. She has worked for more than 15 years in public health nutrition, first as a nutrition technical adviser with the Ministry of Health and the World Bank in Iran, and later as a child nutrition adviser with UNICEF Headquarters in New York. She is an expert in international nutrition and has facilitated nutrition programming in more than 15 countries dealing with the double burden of over- and under-nutrition. She has been a co-author on various global guidance documents including the UNICEF Infant and Young Child Programming Guide and the WHO Indicators for Infant and Young Child Feeding. As the Founding Executive Director of The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences, she is leading a global initiative to develop a research agenda for nutrition science, build partnerships across sectors to stimulate scientific research, and to advance implementation of the research outcomes towards better policy and program development.

Amy Beaudreault, PhD

Associate Director, The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science

Dr. Beaudreault is the Associate Director of The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences. In this position, she manages the day-to-day activities of the Sackler Institute, which includes facilitating Working Groups, conducting research, providing technical assistance, leading conference development, and expanding communication. Dr. Beaudreault has more than 10 years’ experience in strategic communication, quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, and program development, outreach, and evaluation. She has played an integral part in many teams and has seen research develop from proposal to publication. Dr. Beaudreault managed Ohio State University Extension agricultural and safety health programs, several U.S. Federal contracts (including contracts for the Department of Education and the Nuclear Regulatory Agency), and used her public relations background while working in the research communication department at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH. She holds a PhD in Agricultural Education and Extension, an MS in Agricultural Communication, and a graduate certificate in survey research from The Ohio State University. Her research can be found in such journals as the Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, Journal of Extension, and Journal of Food Products Marketing.


Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS

Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Dr. Shari Barkin is the William K. Warren Foundation Chair Professor of Pediatrics, Director of Pediatric Obesity Research in the Diabetes Center, and Chief of General Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Dr. Barkin received her medical degree from the University of Cincinnati Medical College and completed a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars fellowship at UCLA. Her laboratory studies family-based community centered clinical interventions to measurably reduce pediatric obesity and in critical windows of childhood. The lab is focused on changing body mass index trajectories in childhood, applying the ecologic model that considers the child in the context of their family, and the family in the context of their community. A theme of the lab is the interaction between behavior, environment and genetics in health outcomes. This lab applies a wide variety of techniques to address these complex problems, including qualitative and quantitative methodologies. The lab considers objective biologic measurements (such as fat mass and BMI), genetic measurements (epigenetic patterns, genetic allelic risk scores), social measurements (social networks), and behavioral measurements (actigraphy and diet changes over time in both parents and children). She serves as the PI of the Growing Right Onto Wellness (GROW) Trial, a 7-year RCT to prevent childhood obesity funded by NHLBI and NICHD and part of the Childhood Obesity Prevention and Treatment Research (COPTR) Consortium. She serves on the Institute of Medicine’s Board of Children, Youth, and Families.

Mina Desai, PhD

University of California Los Angeles Medical Center

Dr. Mina Desai is an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Director of Perinatal Research at Los Angeles Biomedical Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. She graduated from M.S. University, India (BSc, MSc) and completed her PhD and post-doctoral fellowship at University of Cambridge, UK. Her doctoral thesis and fellowship was on early origins of metabolic syndrome with emphasis on obesity and diabetes.  Dr. Desai serves as Director of Perinatal Research of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at LABioMed at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center from 2006. She has over 90 peer reviewed publications, 300 published abstracts and numerous book chapters. Dr. Desai is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (Cambridge University Press) and a member of NIH Review Committee Study Section on Integrative Physiology of Obesity and Diabetes. She is a recognized expert in developmental programming of metabolic syndrome. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, March of Dimes, American Heart Association and American Diabetes.

Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, PhD

New York University School of Medicine

Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello joined the NYU School of Medicine in 2012 as an Associate Professor of Medicine. She received her undergraduate degree in 1983 from Simon Bolivar University, her Masters in 1987 (Animal Nutrition) and her PhD in 1990 (Microbiology) from University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She is a member of the American Academy of Microbiology, is an IDSA fellow and is in the editorial board of several journals. She has 80 scientific papers and her current main focus is on the co-evolution of the microbiota and host, and the unprecedented ways in which modern Western lifestyle affects the microbiota. Her lab uses metagenomics, ecology, and anthropology approaches to address broad questions of how microbes and hosts interact, how babies assemble their microbiota, how modern practices impact it and how can we restore it.

Lawrence B. Finer, PhD

Guttmacher Institute

Dr. Lawrence B. Finer is the Director of Domestic Research at the Guttmacher Institute. Dr. Finer supervises the Guttmacher Institute’s research portfolio of U.S.-focused projects on pregnancy and abortion, contraceptive use, family planning services, and adolescent reproductive health. His primary research focus is unintended pregnancy at the national and state level, and he has published work on premarital sex, the reasons women seek abortions, and the services provided by U.S. family planning clinics. He is the director of the NIH-funded Guttmacher Center for Population Research Innovation and Dissemination. He also serves as a Senior Lecturer in Population and Family Health at the Columbia School of Public Health.

Stephen A. Krawetz, PhD

Wayne State University School of Medicine

Dr. Stephen A. Krawetz is the Charlotte B. Failing Professor of Fetal Therapy and Diagnosis, serving as Associate Director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan. He is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Systems Biology in Reproductive Medicine. Dr. Krawetz has served as the Director of the WSU-Michigan Life Sciences Corridor Bioinformatics Node and was the Founding Director of the Center of Excellence: Paternal Impact of Toxicological Exposure. He received his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Toronto in 1983 and then trained with Gordon Dixon at The University of Calgary as an AHFMR postdoctoral fellow. Dr. Krawetz is well-recognized in the fields of Reproductive Genetics and Bioinformatics. Using human spermatogenesis as a model system, his primary research focus is directed towards understanding the long range genetic mechanisms that dictate cell fate. He has published over 207 articles, reviews, books and chapters detailing the regulation of gene expression by chromatin structure and the analysis and organization of the human sperm genome and its application to personalized medicine. His laboratory continues to implement and develop state-of-the-art technologies to determine how RNAs feedback to the genome to modulate the system. The spermatozoal RNAs delivered at fertilization may provide an essential component to early paternal genome reprogramming acting as genetic and epigenetic effectors.

Nancy F. Krebs, MD

University of Colorado School of Medicine

Dr. Krebs is a Professor of Pediatrics, Head of the Section of Nutrition, and Vice Chair for Academic Affairs in the Department of Pediatrics. She obtained her MS in Nutrition Science at the University of Maryland and her MD from the University of Colorado. She is board certified in General Pediatrics, Pediatric Gastroenterology, and in Clinical Nutrition. She studies the impact of nutrition and feeding on both impaired and excessive growth of infants and young children, in both U.S. and international settings. Current research investigates the influence of maternal phenotype (lean vs obese) on bioactive components of human milk; effects of complementary food choices on infant growth and body composition; effects of pre- and post-natal dietary exposures on infants’ microbiome; and potential for pre-conceptional interventions to improve fetal growth in low resource international settings, and to reduce obesity risk in offspring in the US. Her clinical work includes consultations for growth faltering and nutritional deficiencies in infants and toddlers, and she oversees a multidisciplinary program for pediatric weight management.  Her research is funding by the NIH, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other sources, and she has published in premier Nutrition and Medical journals. 

Julie A. Mennella, PhD

Monell Chemical Senses Center

Dr. Julie A. Mennella obtained a PhD from the Department of Behavioral Sciences at The University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. She subsequently did postdoctoral work on the transfer of volatiles from maternal diet to human milk at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, PA. She joined the faculty there in 1990 where she is now a Member. Her major research interests include sensitive periods in flavor learning and growth during breastfeeding and formula feeding; the role of genetics and culture on taste sensitivity and preferences; and the effects of alcohol and tobacco use during lactation on various aspects of women’s health, lactational performance and mother-child interaction. Dr. Mennella is the recipient of grants from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health, and she is the author or co-author of research papers which have appeared in publications such as The New England Journal of Medicine, Pediatrics, Journal of Clinical Therapeutics and Pharmacology, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Nico S. Rizzo, PhD

Loma Linda University

Dr. Rizzo is an Assistant Professor at the Nutrition Department at the School of Public Health in Loma Linda and an Associate Researcher at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. He received a PhD in Medicine from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. His doctoral research focused on the associations between physical activity, cardio respiratory fitness and metabolic risk factors in children and adolescents. Dr. Rizzo is currently the course leader for Public Health Biology and Nutrition, Nutritional Epidemiology and Research Methods in Epidemiology at Loma Linda University. He has lectured at the Department of Bioscience and Nutrition and the Department of Medical Nutrition at Karolinska Institutet and has been a guest lecturer at the CASCADE Network of Excellency. Dr. Rizzo is the Special Interest Group Leader for Molecular Nutrition for the American Public Health Association (APHA) and responsible for the programming of the scientific sessions for the Epidemiology Section of the APHA. He has authored peer reviewed articles on physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness and nutrition and their association with metabolic syndrome and obesity in children and adults. He is a co-investigator of the AHS 2 study at Loma Linda University and of the Skelleftea Epigenetics Project in Sweden that is investigating trans-generational effects of environmental factors on health outcomes and is funded by the Swedish Research Council. Presently he is integrating traditional and newer methodologies in Epigenetic research allowing him to explore new interactive ways of examining associations between physical activity, nutrition and chronic disease risk factors.

Susanne Stormer

Novo Nordisk

Susanne is the Vice President of Corporate Sustainability at Novo Nordisk A/S. She joined the Novo Group in 2000 to ingrain the TBL concept in the business as the lens for decision-making. She sets the strategic direction for the company’s positioning as a sustainability leader and a pioneer in demonstrating the long-term business value of incorporating economic, social and environmental perspectives into its market proposition. She and her team are charged with the overall management of corporate sustainability-driven programmes, the integrated Annual Report, engagements with ESG investors and stakeholders in the professional sustainability community, and for communicating the value of the company’s Triple Bottom Line (TBL) business principle. Among her achievements are the successful integration of the company’s financial and sustainability reporting. Susanne holds an MA in English Language and Literature and a BA in East Asian Area Studies from Aarhus University, Denmark. She is adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, member of the board of CSR Europe, member of the working group for the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), the Advisory Council for Cornerstone Capital, and the Advisory Council for the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board. Susanne Stormer is a Danish national, born November 1959.

Linda M. Szymanski, MD, PhD

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Dr. Szymanski is an assistant professor in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and is board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Maternal-Fetal Medicine. Medicine is a second career for Dr. Szymanski, who also holds a PhD in Exercise Science from the University of South Carolina. As an exercise physiologist, she directed both university- and community-based preventive and rehabilitative exercise programs.  Earlier in her career, while serving as a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University, she studied the effects of hormone therapy and exercise in postmenopausal women. After earning a medical degree at Georgetown University, she completed a residency in gynecology and obstetrics at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, where she served as administrative chief resident.  After practicing general obstetrics and gynecology for two years, she completed a fellowship at Johns Hopkins in Maternal-Fetal Medicine and subsequently accepted a faculty position at Johns Hopkins where she is Director of the Multiple Gestation Clinic. She has found a way to combine her two careers and has successfully implemented a research and clinical program in exercise and pregnancy. She is particularly interested in developing evidence-based guidelines for exercise during pregnancy to enable providers to appropriately counsel their patients during this important time. She has received funding from the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Loan Repayment Program (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development). In addition, she loves to teach and has been awarded numerous teaching awards, including the national Council on Resident Education in Obstetrics and Gynecology (CREOG) Award for Excellence in Resident Teaching.

Mark Lawrence Wahlqvist, MD

Zhejiang University

Mark L. Wahlqvist AO, B Med Sc, MD, BS (Adelaide), MD (Uppsala), FRACP, FAIFST, FACN, FAFPHM, FTSE has held chairs in Human Nutrition, Medicine, Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine and been Chair of Internal Medicine at the Monash Medical Centre, in Melbourne. He was President of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences; Chair of Nutrition Australia; Foundation Chair of the Weight Management Code Administration Council of Australia; Board member of the ANZ Food Authority; Foundation Chair of the Food Safety Council of Victoria; Director of the FAO Centre of Excellence in Food Safety linked to the Monash Asia Institute and also of its Asia Pacific Health & Nutrition Centre; and chair of the Australian Academy of Science National Nutrition Committee. He is Foundation Editor-in-Chief of APJCN. He is now Emeritus Professor at Monash University, Visiting Professor at Taiwan’s NHRI, Honorary Professor at Deakin University, and Director of the Fuli Institute at Zhejiang University, China. The Charlotta Medal of the Emigrant’s Research Institute in Sweden was awarded in1994. He has awards from several scientific societies. For his contributions to Indonesian women’s health, he was made an honorary Bataknese. He is an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).

Jane Wardle, PhD

University College London

Jane Wardle is Professor of Clinical Psychology at University College London and Director of Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Research Centre. Her obesity research spans epidemiological, aetiological, and clinical studies and includes the Gemini twin birth cohort, set up to focus specifically on genetic and environmental influences on weight.  She has an interest in the best way to use genetic information in weight control advice. In 2012 she was elected to Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences for contributions to disease prevention, and in 2013 to Fellowship of the British Academy for contributions to health psychology.

Robert A. Waterland, PhD

Baylor College of Medicine

Dr. Robert Waterland is an Associate Professor at Baylor College of Medicine, and is based in the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas. He holds faculty appointments in the Department of Pediatrics / Nutrition and the Department of Molecular & Human Genetics. Dr. Waterland received his BS in Physics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and worked for several years at the University of Pennsylvania, first with Britton Chance (biochemistry/biophysics), then with Albert Stunkard (clinical obesity research). After earning his PhD in Human Nutrition from Cornell University (with Cutberto Garza), he conducted postdoctoral research in developmental genetics with Randy Jirtle at Duke University. Dr. Waterland’s research focuses on understanding how nutrition during critical periods of prenatal and early postnatal development affects gene expression, metabolism, and chronic disease susceptibility in adulthood. His laboratory studies both mouse models and humans to elucidate the mechanisms by which early nutrition and other environmental influences affect the establishment and maintenance of epigenetic mechanisms, with a focus on DNA methylation. He is a member of the American Society for Nutrition and the American Society of Human Genetics, and serves on the council of the International Society for Developmental Origins of Health and Disease and the board of directors of the Epigenetics Society.

Christiane Wrann, DVM, PhD

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Christiane D. Wrann is a Senior Research Fellow in Cell Biology with Dr. Bruce Spiegelman at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Wrann studied veterinary medicine at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, the University of Cambridge, and Cornell University. She received her PhD with Summa cum laude in Immunology from the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover in 2008. From 2009-20011, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship sponsored by the German Research Foundation in the laboratory of Dr. Evan Rosen at BIDMC and Harvard Medical School. Her research focuses on the beneficial effects of exercise on metabolism and brain health, transcriptional regulation in metabolism, and secreted factors in exercise as potential drug targets. Recently, Dr. Wrann has been awarded a K99/R00 Pathway to independence Award from the NINDS.


Session 1: Pre-conception and Generational Effects of Nutrition

Weight Management in Transitional Economies: An Ecosystem Health Dilemma
Mark Lawrence Wahlqvist, MD
Zhejiang University and Monash University

The ways in which we live, and the circumstances in which we live, are changing our energy acquisition and utilisation to the health detriment of our anatomy and physiology, not only intra- but also inter-generationally. Added to the problem of impaired energy regulation (IER) with its associated disorders of body composition (DoBC) is that of a limited diversity of sensory and nutritional inputs. Biodiversity and the use of biodiverse foods are essential for optimal health. That biodiversity extends to our heterogenomic prokaryotic microbiomes and to the extensive functions of molecules by which we sense our general and food environments. Its complex biological dysfunction may be regarded as ecosystem health disorder (EHD).The diagnosis and management of weight disorders requires an appreciation of their ecological context and as EHDs. Thus, while indices of body composition disorder may be represented by anthropometric or instrumental measures (eg impedance, DEXA), these belie primary causality and various pathogeneses with a range of possible personal and societal interventions. It is increasingly clear that, short of interventions like bariatric surgery for the very obese, successful long-term arrest of progressive overfatness is difficult. But the risk of this eventuality can be much less where communities, localities and food systems are conducive to the safe pursuit of walking and recreational activity and encourage the appreciation, enjoyment and societal role of food. The success of community-led programs to prevent obesity like EPODE is testimony to this. Our dilemma is how to promote and enable these ecosystem-based strategies as such systems fail.

Intended and Unintended Pregnancies: The Role of Socioeconomic Inequities
Lawrence B. Finer, PhD, Guttmacher Institute

Unintended pregnancy is a key indicator of a population’s reproductive health. Unintended pregnancies are a manifestation of the inability of women and couples to determine the timing and spacing of their childbearing, and they are also associated with negative prenatal maternal behaviors. Most problematically, the rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States is much higher than that in many industrialized nations, and there are enormous differences across socioeconomic groups in the incidence of unintended pregnancy. Poor women, women of color, women with less education and unmarried women all have many more unintended pregnancies than their demographic counterparts, and some of these disparities have increased over time. Moreover, the economic recession may have led to a shift from intended to unintended pregnancies in the recent period. Details on these patterns and trends will be presented, along with discussion of the role that more-effective contraceptive methods may play in lowering the unintended pregnancy rate.

Paternal Contributions: The Role of RNA in Sperm
Stephen A. Krawetz, PhD, Wayne State University School of Medicine

Sperm are essentially transcriptionally and translationally silent having purged the majority of their cytoplasm and reducing their nuclear volume to 1/13th that of the oocyte. Nevertheless the sperm delivers a complement of RNAs to the oocyte at fertilization. This affords a window to earlier events reflecting the end-state of the sperm. It has prompted a search for function that perhaps forecasts early embryo development, early embryo loss or the long-term health of that individual. As technology has evolved, the application of Next Generation Sequencing to this problem has revealed a complex steady state population of messenger RNAs, epigenetic RNAs and small non-coding RNAs delivered to the oocyte. This raises the question: can spermatozoal RNAs impact the birth of a healthy child? We have proposed that this suite of paternally derived and delivered transcripts that are primed for function but lack male ribosomal RNAs hijack the maternal machinery. All are reflective of the state of the gamete and essential for successful early development. They confront – consolidate genomes, provide a signal for the first cell division and determine early lineage. We are now extending these studies to address the effect of the environment on male reproductive fitness and its impact on the birth of a healthy child.
This work was supported in part by a pilot grant to SAK and R. Hauser from Harvard School of Public Health; National Institutes of Health [Grant Number ES017285] to R.H. and the Charlotte B. Failing Professorship to SAK.

The Microbiome and Global Health
Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, PhD, New York University School of Medicine

The human microbiome, or the microbial genes that complement the human genome in our body niches, exert important endocrine, immune and digestive functions. The maternal microbiome naturally colonizes the newborn body sites, and the microbiota is known to influence obesity risks, but we do not know the mechanisms and the extent to which the maternal microbiome predisposes to obesity. Westernized lifestyle greatly affects the microbiota of humans directly and by affecting that of mothers to be, an indirect compounded effect is added in each generation.

Offspring Effects of Maternal Exercise before and during Gestation
Linda M. Szymanski, MD, PhD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

The benefits of exercise during pregnancy – before, during, and after – are increasingly being investigated. It is well established that physical activity in non-pregnant populations provides numerous health benefits across virtually every disease – and these benefits show across race, sex, and age. In addition, they exist in both the primary prevention of many diseases as well as the secondary prevention, or rehabilitation, of most diseases. In pregnant women, perhaps most interesting, is that the benefits of increased physical activity appear to cross over to the neonate, possibly extending into childhood and adulthood. In this talk, the existing data on physical activity in women who exercise before, during, and after pregnancy will be discussed, including the very important impacts of this altered intrauterine environment on neonates and their subsequent health through adulthood.

Session 2: Intrauterine Environment and ‘Programming’

IOM Workshop: Examining a Developmental Approach to Childhood Obesity and Potential Translational Opportunities
Shari Barkin, MD, MSHS, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

In 2015 the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Food and Nutrition Board, in collaboration with the IOM and the National Research Council’s Board on Children, Youth, and Families, will present a workshop examining a developmental approach to childhood obesity and associated potential translational opportunities. The workshop objectives include: 1) Identify epigenetic-mediated relationships between exposure to risk factors during early sensitive periods of development (gestation through age 3) and subsequent obesity-related health outcomes; 2) Explore the science underpinning periods of obesity risk and potential reversibility in the context of early childhood development; and 3) Examine to what extent epigenetic signatures can be used in obesity risk prediction, and early intervention and prevention. Experts will be convened to present and lead discussions on cutting-edge science. Moderated panels and facilitated discussions will engage participants in in-depth exploration of the evidence and identify potential next steps and research gaps that exist to advance the science. The workshop discussions will integrate the cross-cutting themes of racial and ethnic disparities and translation from basic science to clinical applications. By exploring the strength of the biologic evidence surrounding the contributions of early life experiences in conjunction with genetic processes contributing to childhood obesity, the workshop offers a unique opportunity to examine the current science and identify potentially plastic periods ripe for obesity prevention strategies.
Coauthor: Ann Yaktine, PhD, Institute of Medicine; Washington, DC

Nutritional Influences on Human Developmental Epigenetics
Robert A. Waterland, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine

Transient nutritional exposures during critical ontogenic periods can cause persistent changes in gene expression, metabolism, and risk of various diseases including obesity. We have been investigating whether such ‘developmental programming’ occurs via nutritional influences on developmental epigenetics. Our studies in agouti viable yellow and axin fused mice showed that developmental establishment of DNA methylation at ‘metastable epialleles’ is especially sensitive to maternal nutritional status around the time of conception. Lately, using a multiple-tissue screen for interindividual variation in DNA methylation, we have identified human genomic regions that appear to be metastable epialleles. Stochastic establishment of DNA methylation at these loci is affected by maternal nutrition around the time of conception, consistent across multiple tissues, and stable for many years. Most recently, our studies using genome-wide bisulfite sequencing have identified candidate metastable epialleles that are associated with human disease, providing exciting opportunities for epigenetic epidemiology.

Ontogeny of Taste Preferences: Basic Biology and Health Implications
Julie A. Mennella, PhD, Monell Chemical Senses Center

Health initiatives address childhood obesity in part by encouraging good nutrition early in life. In this talk, I will highlight the basic science that revealed children naturally prefer higher levels of sweet and salty tastes and reject lower levels of bitter tastes than do adults. Thus, their basic biology does not predispose them to favor the recommended low-sugar, low-sodium, vegetable-rich diets and makes them especially vulnerable to our current food environment of foods high in salt and refined sugars. If this is the bad news, the good news is that sensory experiences, beginning early in life, can shape preferences. Mothers eating diets rich in healthy foods can get children off to a good start since flavors are transmitted from the maternal diet to amniotic fluid and mother’s milk, and experience with such flavors leads to great acceptance of those foods. In contrast, infants fed formula learn to prefer its unique flavor profile and may have more difficulty initially accepting flavors of fruits and vegetables not found in formula. Once weaned, regardless of early feeding mode, infants can learn through repeated exposure and dietary variety. In summary, early life experiences with healthy tastes and flavors may go a long way toward promoting healthy eating and growth, which could have a significant impact in addressing the many chronic illnesses associated with poor food choice.

Obesigenic Effects of Developmental Programming
Mina Desai, PhD, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, LABioMed at Harbor-UCLA

A newly recognized primary cause of the obesity epidemic is the developmental programming effects of 1) infants born to mothers with maternal obesity and high fat diets (MO) or gestational diabetes, 2) low birth weight newborns (LBW), and 3) offspring exposed to environmental toxins including Bisphenol A (BPA). As the developing fetus is dependent upon the maternal nutritional, hormonal and metabolic environments, any perturbation which “programs” organ structure, cellular composition, gene expression and/or the epigenome may ultimately alter metabolism and function. Importantly, interactions with the postnatal environment and neonatal growth further modulate susceptibility to obesity. Despite the diversity of these perinatal exposures, the similar outcome of offspring obesity begs the question of the putative underlying mechanism(s). We have established rat models of maternal under-nutrition and maternal over-nutrition to produce LBW and MO newborns, respectively. Our studies demonstrate that both offspring exhibit early onset of hyperphagia and increased adiposity, suggesting a common mechanism of programmed hypothalamic appetite pathways and adipogenic signals. We have identified nutrient sensors, epigenetic modifications, and alterations in stem cell precursors of both appetite/satiety neurons and adipocytes which are ultimately modulated to potentiate offspring obesity. Specifically, the hyperphagia is secondary to enhanced appetite (orexigenic) and impaired satiety (anorexigenic) responses resulting from a programmed dysfunction of neural progenitor cells which produce the brain appetite network in the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus. The increased adiposity is secondary to intrinsic trait of increased preadipocyte proliferation and differentiation as well as enhanced propensity for fat storage.
Coauthor: Michael G. Ross, MD, MPH, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, LABioMed at Harbor-UCLA

Breast Feeding: Molecules, Nutrients, and Context
Nancy F. Krebs, MD, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Rapid weight gain during the first few weeks to months of post-natal life is associated with later obesity. The “growth acceleration hypothesis” proposes that such rapid growth programs the infant metabolic profile to be susceptible to obesity and other components of metabolic syndrome. Abundant epidemiologic data in the literature supports the importance of this critical window, but the underlying mechanisms are unknown.  Animal data suggest distinct effects of obese dams on lactation performance. Hypothesizing that maternal phenotype (normal weight vs overweight/obese, NW vs OW/OB) may influence the nutrient profile and bioactive components of human milk, we have compared these groups’ macronutrient content, cytokines, adipokines, pro-oxidant and pro-inflammatory mediators in human milk, and have related them to the growth and body composition of offspring from 0-4 months. Results identified hormonal differences in maternal circulation, but composition of human milk was generally robust between groups. Infants of OW/OB mothers were heavier and fatter at birth but weight gain (adjusted for sex) and % fat did not differ thereafter. Rate of lean mass gain was higher in infants of OW/OB mothers. Differences in the infants’ enteric microbiome (MB) and metagenomics by maternal group were detectable at 2 weeks; longitudinal changes may provide further insight. Feeding behaviors between maternal groups also did not differ; independent of group, maternal concern about insufficient milk intake and/or weight gain was associated with less exclusive breastfeeding, a ‘pressuring’ feeding style, and more feeding for infant fussiness.  Bioactive components in human milk and maternal feeding practices may be synergistic drivers of early infant growth.
Coauthor: Bridget Young, PhD, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Session 3: Re-setting the Program: Neonatal to Adolescence

Appetite as a Susceptibility Factor in Obesity Risk
Jane Wardle, PhD, University College London

The increasing prevalence of obesity over the past 30 years strongly implicates environmental causes; the so-called ‘obesogenic environment’. At the same time, there is evidence for strong genetic influence on weight; even in children born since the start of the obesity epidemic. One resolution to this apparent paradox is the behavioral susceptibility model which proposes that genetic influence on weight operates partly through appetitive traits, whose expression is determined by environmental food opportunities. This paper will present evidence that appetitive traits such as ‘food responsiveness’ and ‘satiety responsiveness’ predict weight gain prospectively from early in life, are associated with food intake both in laboratory studies and everyday life, are heritable, and are influenced by genes known to be associated with weight; supporting a key role for appetite in the etiology of obesity. There is also some evidence that the heritability of weight is increased in more obesogenic environments; consistent with gene-environment interactions, and evidence that obese individuals choose environments with a more ample food supply; consistent with gene-environment correlations. Implications of a behavioral susceptibility model for prevention and treatment will be discussed, including the importance of better public understanding of genetics and a possible future role for personalized genetic test feedback.

Exercise and Neurodegeneration: A Potential Therapeutic Role for FNDC5/irisin
Christiane D. Wrann, DVM, PhD, Harvard Medical School

Exercise can improve cognitive function and has been linked to the increased expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). However, the underlying molecular mechanisms driving the elevation of this neurotrophin remain unknown. Here we show that FNDC5, a previously identified muscle protein that is induced in exercise and is cleaved and secreted as irisin, is also elevated by endurance exercise in the hippocampus of mice. Neuronal Fndc5 gene expression is regulated by PGC-1α and Pgc1a-/- mice show reduced Fndc5 expression in the brain. Forced expression of FNDC5 in primary cortical neurons increases Bdnf expression, whereas RNAi-mediated knockdown of FNDC5 reduces Bdnf. Importantly, peripheral delivery of FNDC5 to the liver via adenoviral vectors, resulting in elevated blood irisin, induces expression of Bdnf and other neuroprotective genes in the hippocampus. In addition, stimulation of primary hippocampal neurons with recombinant irisin activates a similar gene program. Taken together, our findings link endurance exercise and the important metabolic mediators, PGC-1α and FNDC5, with BDNF expression in the brain. We are currently investigating the identity of the irisin receptor.

This work was supported by the JPB Foundation and NIH grants (DK31405 and DK90861) and a K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award (NS087096).
Coauthors: James P. White, PhD1, John Salogiannis, PhD2, Di Ma, PhD3 Jiandie D. Lin, PhD3, Michael E. Greenberg, PhD3, Bruce M. Spiegelman, PhD1
1. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, MA
2. Department of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, MA
3. Life Sciences Institute and Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan Medical Center, MI


Windows of Opportunity: How Modifying Young Couples’ Lifestyle Choices Could Prevent Diabetes in the Next Generations
Susanne Stormer, Novo Nordisk

Early life influences play an important role in the rising prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) because maternal lifestyle and conditions such as gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) and obesity affect the risk of diabetes in the next generation. The science on the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) shows that a woman's health and lifestyle choices (unbalanced nutrition, obesity and smoking) prior to and during pregnancy can influence her risk and her child's risk of developing diabetes later in life. Currently there are no examples of implemented pre-pregnancy interventions for the prevention of NCDs such as diabetes. Novo Nordisk has consequently partnered with global experts to explore opportunities to introduce pre-pregnancy interventions and reduce the risk of diabetes in mothers and future generations. The aim is to develop interventions that can be replicated, scaled up and run sustainably in a range of settings. Malaysia is the first country to pilot the initiative. Rapid socio-economic development and changes in dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles have led to a sharp increase in obesity and diabetes. In partnership with the Ministry of Health, the project will design pre-pregnancy interventions targeting newly married couples, planning to start a family. Its objectives are to 1) improve women’s health literacy and support them to adopt healthy lifestyles, 2) demonstrate that pre-pregnancy interventions are feasible and can improve health during pregnancy, 3) prove that pre-pregnancy interventions improve birth outcomes for the woman and reduce the precursors of obesity and diabetes risk in her baby at delivery.

Travel & Lodging

Our Location

The New York Academy of Sciences

7 World Trade Center
250 Greenwich Street, 40th floor
New York, NY 10007-2157

Directions to the Academy

Hotels Near 7 World Trade Center

Recommended partner hotel

Club Quarters, World Trade Center
140 Washington Street
New York, NY 10006
Phone: 212.577.1133

The New York Academy of Sciences is a member of the Club Quarters network, which offers significant savings on hotel reservations to member organizations. Located opposite Memorial Plaza on the south side of the World Trade Center, Club Quarters, World Trade Center is just a short walk to the Academy.

Use Club Quarters Reservation Password NYAS to reserve your discounted accommodations online.

Other nearby hotels

Conrad New York


Millenium Hilton


Marriott Financial Center


Club Quarters, Wall Street


Eurostars Wall Street Hotel


Gild Hall, Financial District


Wall Street Inn


Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park