This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Nutrient Intake and Epigenetic Influences on Childhood Obesity: A Racial Perspective




Patel, Priyadarshni

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management

Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



Obesity, a complex condition influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, poses a significant public health challenge. Despite extensive efforts in dietary, exercise, educational, surgical, and pharmacological interventions, a sustainable solution has not been found. Recent studies in epigenetic research have shed light on the impact of environment such as diet and lifestyle choices on gene expression, opening a new window of opportunity. This dissertation focuses into the field of epigenetics, specifically focusing on DNA methylation, a mechanism that can modify gene expression without altering the underlying DNA sequence. Through this research, we identified significant DNA methylation differences between normal weight (NW) and overweight/obese (OW/OB) children, as well as between European American (EA) and African American (AA) children. Notably, this research identifies a set of differentially methylated regions associated with key genes linked to childhood obesity. Moreover, the study addresses the disparities in childhood obesity, particularly within racial and ethnic minority groups. African American children, in particular, face a higher prevalence of obesity-related risk factors. Epigenetic analysis of key genes (NRF1, FTO, and LEPR) revealed race-specific associations with DNA methylation patterns and childhood obesity. These findings underscore the importance of considering genetic and environmental factors in understanding and combating childhood obesity. Furthermore, this research explores the impact of essential nutrients, specifically folate, choline and vitamin B12, on DNA methylation. These nutrients play a critical role in one-carbon metabolism, providing methyl groups essential for DNA methylation. Insufficient intake of these nutrients can lead to alterations in DNA methylation patterns, potentially contributing to the development of obesity. In conclusion, this dissertation sheds light on the intricate interplay between genetic, environmental, and epigenetic factors in childhood obesity. The findings not only deepen our understanding of the underlying mechanisms but also highlight potential avenues for targeted interventions and public health strategies.