Environmental Determinants of Obesity

About us

The research of the unit addresses critical questions concerning the impact of adverse early life events and lifestyle factors on chronic disease risk. Current NHMRC and ARC funded research includes intergenerational transmission of obesity, the psychology of eating, mechanisms contributing to increased risk for diabetes, the effects of early-life stress and nutrition on adult disease and NPY based approaches to treating epilepsy.

Obesity: More than half of adults and up to a third of Australian children are considered overweight or obese. Obesity is an increasing problem and a major risk for diabetes and high blood pressure. We have developed models of voluntary high fat feeding in rat and mice, and current work explores why palatable, high fat diets are so appealing. Our specific focus presently is how unhealthy diets negatively impact cognition (NHMRC funded).

Intergenerational transmission of obesity: The impact of parental obesity and early childhood events is a key focus - the impact of maternal obesity on offspring metabolic and cardiovascular risk, and options for intervention, including exercise and pharmacological approaches. Recent work investigating the role of paternal obesity on the health of offspring demonstrated that when rat fathers were fed a high fat diet to induce obesity and glucose intolerance, the resulting female offspring exhibited impaired glucose tolerance and insulin secretion as young adults (Nature, 2010). (NHMRC funded)

Stress and adult disease: Evidence suggests that stressful experiences in early-life (including in utero) might affect diabetes and neurological disorders such as depression and anxiety, in terms of both their onset and its exacerbation. We are examining effects of early-life stress on neurogenesis and various endocrine abnormalities such as high cortisol that antagonize the actions of insulin. We are also looking at ameliorating techniques such as exercise and palatable diets.

Epigenetics: Most gene expression changes are associated with epigenetic changes and these can occur at multiple levels, including DNA methylation, histone and chromatin modifications, nucleosome remodelling and noncoding RNAs. We are investigating the role of epigenetic mechanisms in the ‘long-term memory’ of an adverse early-life experience, such as stress or parental obesity on the risk of developing disease as an adult.  (ARC funded)

Neuropharmacology of epilepsy: Work carried out in collaboration with Professor Terry O’Brien, examines the involvement of Neuropeptide Y (NPY) in a genetic model of absence–type epilepsy. NPY is known to regulate neuronal excitability, and animals that lack NPY are prone to seizures. Our data in epileptic animals suggest NPY is altered in critical brain regions important in generating seizure-like activity. These experiments have the potential to identify novel targets for anti-epileptic drugs.



Current Students

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Recent Alumni

  • Jessica Beilharz                 Post doctoral scientist, UNSW
  • Golam M Uddin                  Post doctoral scientist, Alberta Canada
  • Sabiha Chowdhury            Post doctoral scientist, Dallas Texas USA
  • Kamrul Chowdhury            Post doctoral scientist, Dallas Texas USA
  • Jonathon Teo                     Post doctoral scientist, UNSW Sydney
  • Mukesh Raipuria                Post doctoral scientist, UNSW Sydney
  • Hasnah Bahari                   Lecturer, Malaysia
  • Vanni Caruso                     Lecturer, Uni Tasmania
  • Sultana Raija                     Science teacher
  • Sheau Fang Ng                 Post doctoral scientist



Media Coverage & News Releases

Selected media coverage and news releases.


29/06/19 - Article published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews Fizzing out: No effect of acute carbohydrate consumption on mood

04/06/19 - Commentary for Nutrition Australia: Sugar Drinks Fall Flat

11/05/19 - Professor Margaret Morris and Dr Michael Kendig's article in The Conversation was republished in the NZ Herald . Why eating certain foods could make you smarter

02/04/19 - Professor Margaret Morris was interviewed by 2ser radio to discuss the links between diet and brain function. Listen to the 6 minute interview here: Can eating certain food make you smarter? 

25/03/19 - Article published in The Conversation  Health check: can eating certain foods make you smarter?


14/10/16 - Article published in The Conversation Fat or thin: can the bacteria in our gut affect our eating habits and weight? 

16/02/16 - Article published in The Conversation  Sugar may be as damaging to the brain as extreme stress or abuse

20/01/16 - Article published in The Conversation  Eating healthily during the week but bingeing on weekends is not OK for your gut


09/02/12 - Article published in The Conversation  Exercise can undo the ailments obese mothers hand down to children


We are always looking for enthusiastic undergraduate students to undertake volunteer work experience or student projects in our lab. Please contact Mike Kendig (m.kendig@unsw.edu.au) for more information.