Childhood Obesity Pediatric Research and Clinical Trials


At Boston Children’s Hospital, our care is informed by our research, and we have many studies investigating causes and treatments of obesity. Read more about some of our research breakthroughs:

Sugary calories in liquid form

Our recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) provides definitive evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages directly impacts weight gain and pediatric obesity.

Boston Children’s researchers Cara Ebbeling, PhD, and David Ludwig, MD, PhD find that compared to adolescents who consistently drink sugar-sweetened beverages, those who stopped drinking them for a year gained significantly less weight and avoided BMI increases.

Boost your metabolic rate

Recent research by Cara Ebbeling, PhDDavid Ludwig, MD, PhD; and colleagues in the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center suggest that all calories are not alike from a metabolic perspective. Reducing consumption of highly processed carbohydrates — like white bread, white rice, refined breakfast cereals, and sugary beverages — can provide a metabolic boost of several hundred calories a day, equal to an hour of physical activity. This metabolic boost may be a key to successful long-term weight loss maintenance.

Reviving leptin's promise for obesity

The 1995 discovery of leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, raised hopes of an obesity cure. But researchers later discovered differences in the way the brains of obese people and their normal-weight peers respond to leptin. Specifically, they found that the brains of obese people become leptin-resistant.

Now, Umut Ozcan, MD, and colleagues in Boston Children’s Department of Endocrinology report two existing drugs can restore the brain's sensitivity to leptin in obese mice. How this translates into humans is far from certain, but researchers are beginning to try to answer this question through clinical trials.

Cracking the code on obesity

When an international consortium led by Joel Hirschhorn, MD, PhD, of Boston Children’s Divisions of Genetics and Endocrinology, analyzed data from about 90,000 people, they discovered six new genetic variants linked with body mass index. Most of the variants highlight genes active in the brain, suggesting that differences in appetite regulation may play a role in obesity. The team is now performing larger-scale studies in an attempt to identify additional genetic variants with the goal of one day developing an effective treatment for obesity.

Obesity risk factors more prevalent among black and Latino children

Certain groups, including blacks and Hispanics, are at great risk of obesity during childhood. But according to a study by Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, director of Boston Children’s One Step Ahead (OSA) Program, clinicians can help to lower the risks in these groups by encouraging mothers to breast-feed longer, counseling parents to keep TVs out of children's bedrooms, and encouraging healthful eating and sleeping habits. Her study looked at black and Hispanic mother-child pairs from pregnancy through age 4.

A separate study comparing rates of obesity between Haitian-born children and U.S.-born Haitian children found that the risk of obesity rises with every year spent in the United States. The study underscores how environmental factors in America play a role in the rising rates of obesity among children.